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Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)

The EMSA RPAS services have been developed to assist in maritime surveillance operations to support authorities involved in Coast Guard functions undertaken by Member States, such as:

  • maritime pollution and emissions monitoring;
  • detection of illegal fishing, anti-drug trafficking, and illegal immigration;
  • search and rescue operations.

Used as a complementary tool in the overall surveillance chain which includes satellite imagery, vessel positioning information and surveillance by manned maritime patrol aircraft and vessels, the RPAS service will increase the maritime situational awareness with additional sources of data.

rpas emsa

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) can be used as aerial platforms for sensors such as optical cameras in the visible and infrared (IR) spectral range for night and day maritime surveillance, IR sensors for oil slick detection and analysis, radar for maritime surveillance, and oil spill detection, and gas sensors (“sniffers”) to measure the amount of SOx in a plume emitted by a ship to be able to calculate the percentage of sulphur used in the fuel burned by the ship. Additionally all RPAS are equipped with AIS sensors to have a complete picture of vessel movements and distress sensors to be able to react in emergencies.

2018 rpas

The aircrafts currently available have an endurance ranging from 6 to 12 hours, and weight from 25kg to 235kg. Another particularity that makes the RPAS more suitable for one operation is the type of lift-off, which can be from a runway, a catapult or vertical take-off (in case of an helicopter).

To address the different operational requirements, three types of RPAS are available:

  • Medium size Aircraft with “Long Endurance”;
  • Larger size Aircraft with “long endurance” and a comprehensive set of sensor capabilities;
  • and a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) RPAS.

The payload of each aircraft is adapted to the maritime surveillance activities requested by the user. Depending on the type of the mission, RPAS operate closer to shore, i.e. within the Radio Line of Sight (RLOS) or further offshore, i.e. Beyond Radio Line of Sight (BRLOS), which requires special equipment on board to communicate via satellite. All communications and aircraft control are via a Local Ground Control Station, a mobile unit set-up in the area of operation.

The data and video recording collected during all RPAS missions will be made available to the authority in charge of the operation via the RPAS Data Centre, which is currently being developed by EMSA.

Who can benefit and how?

The RPAS services are offered by EMSA free of charge to EU Member States, Candidate Countries and EFTA Member States. The areas of operation can be all sea areas surrounding the European Union with an EU or EFTA country as a starting point of the service.

The request for RPAS services can be made by Maritime Authorities of the European Union (EU) Member States, Candidate Countries and EFTA Member States, or other Member State Authorities through the European Agencies FRONTEX and EFCA.