The use of airborne search and rescue assets

The second day of Maritime Search and Rescue 2017 covered a range of topics but with the use of airborne SAR assets and autonomous unmanned systems as the main theme.

At the heart of the presentations was a need to provide cost-effective and efficient services using all available assets and new technologies. A summary of some key points made in the presentations is given below.

Utilising Airborne SAR Assets

The transition from military to commercial provision of SAR helicopters was discussed in a joint presentation by Philip Hanson, Aviation Technical Assurance Manager, UK Maritime Coastguard Agency and Russ Torbet, Director UK Search and Rescue, Bristow Helicopters.

The procurement process and contract provisions were explained and the resulting reduction of bases from 12 to 10 and aircraft selection and positioning to meet operational needs clarified. The audience learnt future provision was thought likely to include a mix of fixed-wing, helicopter and unmanned aircraft all capable of being used under various scenarios: SAR, environmental monitoring, security, etc.

This presentation was then followed with Rick Allamby, Business Development Manager, Airborne Systems Ltd, demonstrating the delivery of SAR equipment (boats, liferafts, provisions, etc.) from large aircraft beyond the range of helicopters.

A key learning point for the audience was understanding how rigid inflatable boats of up to 11.5 meters in length could be successfully dropped by parachute, with very accurate drops possible from aircraft flying at around 1,000 meters high.

The Canadian Challenge

Major SAR issues for the Canadian authorities include the huge time and distance between bases, with Kevin Toone, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Canada with explaining the use of civilian aircraft to support SAR missions and the use of the skills of Canadian Rangers and air-droppable Arctic caches of equipment and supplies.  The audience were also presented with the results of research that has demonstrated the peak periods for SAR demand (May to August and weekends) and the scheduling of resources had been optimized accordingly.

Staying in Canada, Fernando Mojica, Director UAS, Transport Canada, explained the policies affecting the National Air Surveillance Program and the opportunities for using autonomous systems.  The importance of gaining regulatory acceptance of ‘beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)’ operations was highlighted.

Autonomous Unmanned Systems

Paul Forster, Head of UAS, Martek Marine, demonstrated the abilities of high-specification, military standard rotary-wing drones equipped with ViDAR including their range, payload and flexibility.  He also highlighted the importance of getting BVLOS right to ensure regulatory approval and safe operations.

The audience learnt how the system had the capability to identify human beings in the water in Sea state 6 at 2 miles range and compared the significant costs of undertaking the search for MH 370 with the likely costs had it been undertaken using ViDAR-equipped drones.

Professor Anibal Matos, Coordinator, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, INESC TEC, recounted the research programme under the ICARUS project and explained the benefits to be gained from use of robot systems including reducing risk to life, more rapid response times, improved situational awareness and the ability to work without pause.  Trials with autonomous air and water craft had demonstrated the concepts involved and the advantages to be gained from multi-sensor data fusion.

European Space Agency

Miranda Saarentaus, European Space Agency, described work on and promotion of integrated applications with industry partners on close-to-market products.  The role of ESA as honest broker was described and relevant use case projects: CAESAR, ICECAST/ISABELIA and MULDIARCOS explained. The addition of a new 18-satellite constellation named ICEYE promised to enhance real-time monitoring of meteorological conditions in the Arctic region.

The meeting also discussed challenges faced by the Slovenian Maritime Administration and the adoption of the IMO Polar Colde within the Arctic region.

With thanks to Petor Ltd for supporting the Day 2 Lunch Networking break


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