No Israeli drones fly for Frontex after crash

Several Member States use EU services for unmanned maritime surveillance of different sizes. Operations for Frontex were stopped since January.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and Frontex will not use Israeli drones to monitor the external borders of the European Union until further notice. This is what the EU Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, writes in response to a written question by left-wing MEP Özlem Demirel. The background is the crash of a long-range drone of the Israeli armament company Elbit on January 8th of this year on Crete. The incident with the „Hermes 900“ occurred on the runway of Tympaki airport in Crete.

For the first time, the Commission is now giving details of the incident. According to the commission, it was a „hard landing“ after sensors of the drone had displayed „unexpected readings“. The aircraft then deviated from the runway, which, as Greek media reported, led to considerable damage. The Commission confirms that the fuselage, wings and sensors were damaged, but that „no casualties nor damage on the running way“ occurred. The „Hermes 900“ was apparently flown by pilots of the manufacturer Elbit.

Drone service for various purposes

The „Hermes 900“ can stay in the air for up to 30 hours. On behalf of Frontex it has been monitoring the Greek maritime borders. The agency responsible for this service is the Maritime Safety Agency, which has been offering European states drone flights since last year for migration prevention, environmental pollution monitoring or measuring emissions.

EMSA provides services with drones of different size e.g. in Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, where they observe ship movements in the English Channel. The German Federal Ministry of Transport has also requested drones from EMSA to examine the exhaust gases of passing ships in the Baltic and North Sea.

Exactly one year ago, Iceland was the first country in Europe to ask EMSA to station a „Hermes 900“ at Egilsstaðir Airport. The service for the Icelandic coast guard was as commissioned to the Portuguese company CeiiA. CeiiA leases the drone and the necessary infrastructure from the manufacturer, who act as subcontractor. It is the first longer mission for the Israeli „Hermes 900“ under difficult wind, weather and temperature conditions.

All Elbit flights stopped

According to the EU Commission, EMSA has not carried out any further flights with the „Hermes 900“ since the crash on Crete. Although the aircraft flown there has been repaired, it is not yet operational again. Before continuing the mission, the agency wants to wait for the final report on the cause of the accident, but the investigation is not yet complete.

Before the end of this year, Frontex wants to station its own drones in the Mediterranean Sea and thus become independent of EMSA. Their endurance should be at least 20 hours, flights should take place in all airspaces, in all weather conditions and at day and night time. The border agency is currently evaluating offers in a European tender, the contract is to be awarded soon. Presumably Elbit has also applied for the contract, one of the toughest competitors is probably Israel Aerospace Industries with its „Heron 1“, also from Israel.

Image: YouTube (Screenshot).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.