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Remotely piloted aircraft technology could drive next generation of search and rescue

by Helen Lewis 13 Sep 10:17 UTC
Elbit Hermes 900 Aberporth Drone © Helen Lewis

More technology which could drive the next generation of search and rescue for Her Majesty's Coastguard is being tested.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is leading work with the Civil Aviation Authority on how remotely piloted aircraft technology can be used in the demanding environment of search and rescue.

HM Coastguard is the search and rescue service of the MCA, which continues its drive to look to the future of SAR in the UK.

The MCA began its own evaluation back in May 2018 with a joint challenge with the RNLI to the aviation industry and has since been laying the foundation stones for its future use in potentially saving lives as part of rescue operations.

Now more test flights have been carried out during the first two weeks of September using the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 as part of a program of events in West Wales.

In partnership the MCA and Elbit Systems UK are exploring how the use of remotely piloted aircraft could support the work of HM Coastguard.

This is in addition to ongoing evaluations being carried out by Bristow Helicopters in North Wales evaluating a remotely piloted aircraft in simulated and recently real-time search and rescue operations.

Although the Hermes 900 isn't currently being used in live operations in the UK, it will be flying in the colours of HM Coastguard and the assessment will further add to the ongoing work around using future technology in its work.

As well as for search and rescue and safety overwatch, the remotely piloted aircraft could potentially be used for counter pollution work providing vital live video and still photographs of ongoing incidents.

Following the completion of the trial activity at West Wales Airport, near Aberporth, a report will be published at the end of this year which will identify the key components of work that will be required to achieve regular, routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights in any class of airspace in the future.

The MCA will work closely with other government departments and agencies to share selected report contents and information regarding the outcome of the trials.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "Drones have the potential to help us in so many aspects of our lives. From search and rescue missions, to delivering critical medicines to places like the Isle of Wight - we're exploring how this new technology could revolutionise our emergency responses. I'm proud to see the UK lead the way in trialling these technologies, which could lead to saving many more lives."

Director of HM Coastguard Claire Hughes said: "We continue to do all we can to use existing technology as well as look to the future in our ongoing work of saving lives at sea. Remotely piloted aircraft continue to be a big part of that work both to potentially save lives in search and rescue and protect our beautiful coastlines from the worst effects of pollution."

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