Drones will be deployed in the UK coastguard SAR operations or the first time on 1 July. The ummanned aircraft will be launched from Caernarfon, North Wales, to provide support for maritime and mountain rescue missions.
The drones will perform safety patrols across the beaches from Conwy Bay to Llandudno, and across Snowdonia.
They will be able to reply footage of incidents to allow staff to select the most immediate response. It will allow the helicopter crew to remain on the ground until specifically required.
The aircraft which had been developed by the Bristow Group will initially be flown just at the weekends as part of a series of trials.
Bristow is flying two Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 systems, following a rigorous, three-month test programme which began in March this year.
That programme is designed to complement work being carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to develop regulations under which UAVs can operate as SAR aircraft. Unmanned aircraft are expected to play a key role when UKSAR2G, the second-generation of search and rescue service due to begin operations in 2024.
Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “We will stop at nothing to keep people safe on our shores and in our seas, exploring new and innovative ways to further bring search and rescue into the 21st century.
“Drones have the potential to help our coastguard teams help save even more lives so I’m excited we’re pioneering these advances in the UK.”
Director of Her Majesty’s Coastguard, Claire Hughes stated: “Search and rescue is about saving lives. Every second counts and every minute saved can prove the difference between life and death. This kind of technology has a big part to play in those moments alongside our helicopters, coastguard rescue teams and our partners from the RNLI to independent lifeboats and hovercraft.”
Russ Torbet, Director UK Search and Rescue, Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: “UAV technology has advanced to the stage where its deployment significantly enhances the capability of air search and rescue operations, improving the reach of the service and reducing risk for the public and our crews.
“These systems provide us with an option to keep our Sikorsky S92 helicopter crew at Caernarfon on standby for lifesaving events, while the unmanned aircraft are tasked with providing safety overwatch and monitoring which those manned aircraft would otherwise have been sent to carry out.
“Bristow began initial testing with Schiebel in 2018, with a view to bringing these UAVs into service during the current UKSAR contract. We are proud to have successfully completed these first missions on behalf of HM Coastguard.”