Leonardo’s FALCO EVO remotely-piloted air system (RPAS), in a maritime patrol configuration, has been deployed from as part of the Frontex surveillance research programme to test its ability to monitor the European Union’s external borders.
European agency Frontex is exploring the surveillance capability of medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) RPAS, as well as evaluating cost efficiency and endurance. Leonardo was selected under a service contract tender for drone operations for maritime surveillance across Italian and Maltese civil airspace. The current agreement provides for 300 flight hours and may be extended into a longer-term agreement.
Under the deployment, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) activities are organised by the Guardia di Finanza, coordinated by the Ministry of Interior and undertaken by Leonardo from Lampedusa airport, with the full support and collaboration of ENAC and ENAV (the Italian civil aviation authority and air navigation service provider respectively). Leonardo’s flight crews and maintenance teams are present to support operations with the FALCO EVO, which is equipped with a complete on-board sensor suite including Leonardo’s GABBIANO TS ultra-light radar. This configuration allows it to conduct extended-range day and night-time missions.
“We are proud to be able to demonstrate the capabilities of our Falco EVO to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which is facing the on-going and evolving surveillance challenges posed by maritime borders. We are ready to leverage our years of experience in drone-based surveillance operations, working with the United Nations and many other international customers,” commanted Leonardo CEO, Alessandro Profumo. “I wish to thank all the Italian stakeholders who contributed to this important achievement and I am convinced that this fruitful partnering approach will allow Frontex to define the best possible use for drone-based technologies.”
The Falco EVO will operate under a ‘Permit to Fly’ issued by ENAC, which authorises flights in Italian and Maltese Flight Information Region (FIR) civil airspace. The innovative agreement reached with ENAC guarantees compliance with national and international regulations and coordination with the relevant authorities. The agreement also provides for close involvement from the Guardia di Finanza as subject matter experts with operational experience in defining mission profiles and ensuring the best operational conditions in which to undertake the 300-hour test programme.
The FALCO EVO configuration being deployed includes a high-definition EO/IR system, a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) satellite data-link system, a new propulsion system based on a heavy-fuel engine, an automatic identification system (AIS) and a complete communications relay suite.
Leonardo is the only European company providing a comprehensive RPAS ISR capability, from the design of each system element all the way through to operations. Today the company is an international pioneer in the operation of unmanned flights on behalf of civil organizations in ‘non-segregated’ transnational airspace. Under an innovative business model, it owns and operates its FALCO family of RPAS and provides surveillance information and data directly to its customers. This ‘managed service’ model is expected to be an area of growth for Leonardo, which is expanding its ‘drones as a service’ offering to customers such as the police and emergency responders in line with the growth path outlined in the company’s industrial plan.