Skies above Germany far from empty

The coronavirus pandemic has brought civil air traffic in Germany to a virtual standstill. In recent weeks, traffic figures have dropped by up to 90 percent. However, the airspace is far from empty.

16.04.2020.- Due to the corona crisis, the airspace above Germany is currently being flown through very infrequently. Only 10 to 20 percent of normal aircraft movements are being recorded currently. However, the airspace is far from empty. In addition to flights transporting German citizens home from foreign vacations, there are many cargo flights being handled by the control centres and towers of DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung. The DFS staff are thus making an important contribution to ensuring that air freight can continue to provide a basic service for people and the economy and are ensuring that vital production chains are maintained during the crisis. This includes medical goods like face masks.

For this reason, there is currently more traffic at the major German cargo airports than at other airports in Europe, albeit at a low level. The front-runner with more than 200 take-offs and landings (as of 15 April) is Frankfurt Airport, which also has the most traffic in Europe in normal times. With 190 aircraft movements (as of 15 April), Leipzig Halle Airport is almost on a par. Yesterday, the second largest German cargo airport, where the express mail service provider DHL has its European hub, actually recorded the most flights. Cologne Bonn Airport, which has a high proportion of air freight, is also currently one of the busiest airports in Europe.

DFS calibration flights now during the day
In addition, the number of calibration and photo flights has increased. Although these flights are not controlled by DFS air traffic controllers, they must be approved by air traffic control. In the past, this was rarely possible due to the high traffic density, but now there is space in the sky. The data obtained during photo flights are needed to develop terrain and surface models for land management. In addition, many flights use special thermal or laser scanners to check power lines and gas pipelines. During these flights, large areas are flown in a grid pattern (see illustration). Many of these flights, especially calibration and photo flights, are perceived by the public as unusual flight movements.

DFS also requires regular calibration flights to check its navigation and radar facilities as well as to calibrate the instrument landing systems at Germany’s international airports. Normally, such calibration flights take place at night. In the current low-traffic period, they can now be rescheduled for the day.

More private air traffic
Private and sports pilots are also taking advantage of the current situation when the airspace is not very busy. Many smaller, mainly propeller-driven aircraft can currently be seen in the sky. What all these flights have in common is that they can be conducted using visual flight rules (VFR). They are subject to the German Aviation Regulation and are not controlled by air traffic control. The pilots themselves are responsible for ensuring sufficient distance to obstacles, other aircraft and clouds. Most of these flights take place in uncontrolled airspace and, therefore, at lower altitudes.

DFS shows live air traffic in Germany
How many flights controlled by DFS are currently in the sky above Germany? DFS has significantly improved Stanly_Track, its tool for air situation display. Previously, Stanly_Track only showed the terminal control areas of Germany’s international airports; now it covers the entire German airspace. The current traffic is displayed in live mode, but the tool can also show historical data. A menu is available to filter additional information from the flight data of the last 14 days.

The new air situation display, information and a user manual can be found on the DFS website.

Media contact:
Kristina Kelek
Telephone: +49 (0)6103 707 - 4161

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,600 employees as at 31/12/2019. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,200 air traffic controllers guide up to 10,000 flights in German airspace every day, more than three million movements every year. This makes Germany the country with the highest traffic volume in Europe. The company operates control centres in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich as well as control towers at the 16 designated international airports in Germany. The subsidiary DFS Aviation Services GmbH markets and sells products and services related to air navigation services, and provides air traffic control at nine regional airports in Germany and at London Gatwick Airport and Edinburgh Airport in the UK. DFS has been working on the integration of drones into air traffic since 2016 and has set up a joint venture, Droniq GmbH, with Deutsche Telekom.