Air Force firefighting drones ‘not paying their way’

Drones purchased for €4.5 million to help keep the country safe during the fire season are not paying their way.

Controversy over the use of the 12 Air Force drones began in August, when it was revealed that none of them had been used despite a ‘rushed purchase’ to ensure they were in action from July 1.

Now the reasons for the delay are coming clear: they all had to be returned to the manufacturer due to ‘engine problems’.

Right now, say reports, only three of the 12 actually work.

Again, this could be said to be almost academic as it has become clear that despite having a fleet of 12, only three can ever be flown at any one time (click here).

One came down earlier this month in Alcácer do Sal when the rotor ‘separated from the engine’, and all the other faulty models are still undergoing repair.

Since August 31, the drones that are fit to fly have “completed 250 hours of vigilance”, said a statement coming out of the Armed Forces.

And today, without acknowledging the issue of mechanical faults, Diário de Notícias reveals that the Armed Forces has finally tested a new ‘firefighting strategy’ – using drones – that will start coming into effect from next year.

The idea is simple: ‘drones in the air, boots on the ground’.

Explains the paper, Armed Forces General Staff (EMGFA) are proposing that the military handles “areas of risk in regions that have their human resources and installations nearby”.

This ‘new way of working’ will substitute the current ‘à la carte model in which patrols are distributed with itineraries within set time-frames’.

It is also thought that a ‘more permanent and regular presence’ of military patrols ‘could have important dissuasive effects’ in terms of visibility as well as ‘interaction with populations’ (this presumably means the patrols would put potential arsonists off while giving local populations a feeling of security).

Says DN, the regions considered for these drone/ foot patrols are Trás-Os-Montes, the Beira-Alta, areas around Santarém, and Coimbra – all of them ‘central locations, where the risk of forest fires are greatest.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com