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IAI, Airbus complete first phase of Frontex trial
Heron RPAS. © IAI

IAI, Airbus complete first phase of Frontex trial

The Maritime Heron RPAS has successfully completed 200 flight hours in civilian European airspace for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), in partnership with Airbus DS Airborne Solutions, has successfully completed 200 flight hours with the Maritime Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) as part of marine patrol and coastal guard missions on Crete, Greece.

The flights — performed in European civilian airspace under a civilian code — are part of trials organised by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to explore the use of remotely piloted aircraft to monitor the European Union’s external borders.

The trials are intended to eveluate the unmanned aircraft in several operational situations. These include surveillance of the sea, support of Search and Rescue operations, detection of vessels suspected of criminal activities, such as drug and weapon smuggling, and information-sharing with multiple users in real time.

The maritime Heron performed a series of flights equipped with an electro-optical payload for day and night vision, a marine radar made by IAI and an automatic identification receiver.

Each mission lasted 14 hours on average. The Heron used a direct link when flying within Line of Sight (LOS), switching to a satellite link when flying Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) to transmit information to multiple users in real time.

The trial — comprising a total of 600 flight hours, to be completed by the end of the year — is supported by the Hellenic Coast Guard, in cooperation with the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority and Air Force. Flights are also scheduled to take place in Italy, with support from Polizia di Stato and Guardia di Finanza.

In another phase of the trials, Frontex is using a smaller Leonardo Falco RPAS in Portugal to monitor the North Atlantic Ocean. In Portugal, Frontex is working together with the European Maritime Safety Authority (EMSA), which provides the RPAS. The agency is also cooperating with the Portuguese Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), Navy and Air Force.

Frontex is also testing the use of manned surveillance aircraft and tethered aerostats for border surveillance.

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