Friday

15th Nov 2019

Investigation

EU looks to 'hybrid drones' for legal shortcut on migration

  • The DA42 Guardian can be used as an UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or OPV (Optionally Piloted Vehicle) (Photo: Diamond Airborne Sensing)

Hybrid aerial surveillance drones are being considered by the EU border agency, Frontex, for future operations with member states.

The kit, so-called optionally piloted aircrafts (OPA), can carry a pilot but can also be operated by remote control.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

They are useful because they circumvent EU laws which prohibit fully unmanned drones from flying in commercial airspace.

Flying unmanned craft next to normal passenger or cargo planes over the EU would require amending numerous national and EU-level laws and safety hurdles - a process that is likely to take years.

But putting someone on board as an additional safety feature gets around the problem, even if the real pilot is operating the craft from a ground station.

The Warsaw-based Frontex is looking at OPAs as a long term option.

"If you are going to invest in this kind of equipment, you need to use it for the next 10 to 15 years,” Frontex head of research Edgar Beugels told this website.

He said member states which purchase OPAs could add them to the surveillance arsenal in Frontex-co-ordinated operations.

The agency already operates five joint operations in the Mediterranean Sea in a broad effort, it says, to intercept migrants trying to reach Europe and from losing their lives in incidents such as the recent Lampedusa disaster.

The technology is well established and OPAs have already flown test flights.

The Austrian-based firm, Diamond Airborne Sensing, manufactures the Diamond Airborne Sensing DA-42.

The twin-engine craft, also known as the Guardian, can be used as a drone or as an OPA and is capable of flying up to 12.5 hours without refuelling.

“The investment in this remote sensing platform pays for itself through fuel savings alone,” the company's website says.

The DA-42 was slated for a demonstration over the summer as part of Frontex’ Aerial Border Surveillance Trial 2013.

The demo never took place because Greece declined to give Diamond Airborne Sensing a flight licensing agreement.

Frontex does not rule out organising future OPA test runs. Last year, it organised an OPA and drones workshop with Bulgaria’s border police.

But for its part, Diamond Airborne Sensing is also targeting individual member states with migration problems.

It flew the DA-42 in separate operational tests over the Mediterranean Sea in April.

The April test included an Automatic Identification System (AIS), which can track up to 200 targets simultaneously and which displays information on each vessel it spots on an operator’s screen. On-board cameras can also send live HD video streams to a command centre up to 200 km away.

Meanwhile, Austria is not alone in trying to cash in on the drone boom - a 2012 European Commission staff working document notes that some 400 drones systems are being developed in 19 member states.

Industry advocates say the technology is not limited to monitoring migrants.

A contact at a major French defence industry firm said they have a variety of potential applications.

“The idea is to develop cheaper means for day-to-day business in terms of monitoring fishing activities, in terms of monitoring illegal activities, more or less on a permanent basis,” the source said.

EU funded surveillance project spots migrant boat

One EU-funded research project on maritime surveillance recently demonstrated positive results.

The project, called Perseus, is led by Indra Sistemas, a Madrid-based information technology and defence company.

It received over €27 million in EU funds. The Perseus' consortium of major defence contractors, interior ministries, and national border authorities contributed another €16 million to "monitor illegal migration and combat related crime and goods smuggling.”

The research is geared towards spotting small boats by using a combination of maritime patrol aircrafts, unmanned air vehicles, maritime patrol boats, and mobile sensor stations.

A live Perseus demonstration in late September, by chance, tracked down a boat 60 nautical miles from the Spanish coast.

Participants were able to view live image feeds from inside the Spanish Guardia Civil’s control room facility as authorities intercepted the vessel.

Some 53 African immigrants, including 16 women and two infants are said to have been on board.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election

Podcast

Cultural Battlefield

Marta Keil knows firsthand the pressure on culture from Poland's ruling Law and Justice party. Her overview begins at the Polski theatre in the city of Wrocław, and describes an epic clash as the Polish museum sector is steadily hollowed-out.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  2. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  3. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  4. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  5. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  6. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  7. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act
  8. Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us