Opportunities and risks of unmanned aerial vehicles for humans and the environment



The advancing technical development in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles, colloquially known as drones, is creating potential for their commercial use. In the course of this, new legal framework conditions are being created, both at national level and within the framework of EU law. For example, the Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) presented a concept for the establishment of U-Spaces in Germany in December 2022. U-Spaces are dedicated airspaces that are intended to enable the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles without conflicts with conventional aviation. For an effective design of the legal framework, information on risks and side effects of potential drone operations is needed. This is where the research project comes in. The aim is to identify and quantify external effects of drone traffic such as visual and acoustic impairments, land use and resource requirements.



First, a systematic literature analysis on the acceptance of drones according to the standard of the PRISMA statement is conducted. Possible logistical operating concepts for the use of drones and suitable goods segments for transport by drones are analysed. In addition, a theory-based analysis is carried out on the urban planning and traffic integration of take-off and landing sites. In the next step, modelling and simulation activities take place using various models for ground-based passenger and freight transport as well as air transport in order to show the shift effects from ground-based transport to the air. First, a scenario technique is used to systematically define and develop future scenarios with different characteristics of drone operation.

  Supply Chain in Scenario A – Status Quo © ISB 2023 Supply Chain in Scenario A – Status Quo   Supply Chain in Scenario B – Parcel Stations © ISB 2023 Supply Chain in Scenario B – Parcel Stations   Supply Chain in Scenario C – Direct Delivery © ISB 2023 Supply Chain in Scenario C – Direct Delivery

Based on the scenarios, the passenger transport models MATSim and Vissim as well as the logistics behaviour model Jsprit are prepared for the simulation of ground-based traffic and extended and parameterised according to the requirements of the developed scenarios. Furthermore, the modelling of air traffic is carried out by means of fast-time simulations. After completion of the simulations, the simulation results are comprehensively evaluated and a comparison is drawn between the base scenario (current drone operation) and the further scenarios (with pronounced drone operation) in order to show the effects of the drones. Based on the analyses and simulation results, recommendations for action are derived for the following areas:

  • Efficient drone operation with acceptable negative impacts
  • Potentials for different fields of application
  • Sensible delivery concepts for the potential fields of application for drones in freight transport
  • Ecological impacts
  • Health impacts
  • Economic effects for logistics
  • Integration of take-off and landing sites into urban planning

In addition, proposals for a specific legal operationalisation, including aspects of building law, will be developed.



  • Evaluation of the effects of drones on human health and the environment
  • Quantitative estimation of external effects such as noise or visual impairment
  • Determination of the change in traffic volumes in ground traffic due to traffic shift to the air
  • Identification of opportunities for future drone operations
  • Development of recommendations for sustainable drone operation
  • Supporting the German government's action plan for unmanned aerial systems and innovative aviation concepts


The German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Institute of Flight Guidance (DLR-FL), is leading the consortium. The staff of DLR-FL have experience with concepts and technologies for the airspace integration of unmanned aerial vehicles. Also part of the consortium is the DLR Institute of Transport Research (DLR-VF), which has expertise in the analysis and forecasting of freight traffic at various spatial levels and in the evaluation of planning measures in relation to innovative technologies. The Institute of Urban Engineering and Transport (ISB) contributes to the project through its expertise in combining transport and urban planning topics.

Project Manager at ISB: Michael Schrömbges M. Sc.
Contributors: Dipl.-Ing. Ingmar Seitz, Marcus Klatte M. Sc.
Funding Authority: Umweltbundesamt (UBA)
Time Period: 03.2023 - 03.2025