Highlands & Islands

Hebrides Range 'ideal' for testing civilian drones

Police officer operating an unmanned aerial system
Image caption Unmanned aerial systems have been used by the police

A military rocket range in South Uist could be used for testing civilian unmanned aircraft - known as drones - it has emerged.

The previous UK government abandoned plans to downgrade the Hebrides Range and related sites on the isles in 2009.

Highlands and island Enterprise (HIE) said if agreed the plan could offer new opportunities for the range.

It comes after an HIE commissioned study found there was a growing market for unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

They presented their findings to Defence Minister Peter Luff in a recent meeting in London.

Civilian roles for UAS include gathering evidence of anti-social behaviour for the police.

'Defence activity'

Merseyside Police unveiled a drone fitted with CCTV and thermal imaging in 2007.

But last year it was grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority because it did not have a licence to fly.

The Hebrides Range Task Force has previously called for the range to be used for testing military drones.

The range is said to be the largest of its kind in Europe and has been used for training in Rapier anti-aircraft rocket systems.

Defence technology giant QinetiQ operates the range and associated sites for the Ministry of Defence.

HIE chairman William Roe said the agency would work with the Hebrides Range Task Force, whose members include local councillors, on realising the potential for the testing of civilian UAS.

He said: "The range, with its segregated airspace, nearby airport and other facilities, is ideally suited to supporting the development of the emerging unmanned aircraft systems market.

"Further research work is required to explore this high-tech sector to ensure any commercial developments are focused on enhancing and further securing defence activity at Hebrides Range."

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