Frontex cancels surveillance plane contract due to lack of interest from companies

The EU's border agency Frontex has failed in its attempt to purchase a plane for "aerial border surveillance service for the EU external land borders" after "no suitable tenders" were submitted in response to an advert posted at the end of March.

The agency sought to purchase an "aircraft equipped with multi-intelligence sensors, radio communication means, ground station and personal equipment, in order to perform aerial surveillance at the external EU land border between Greece and Turkey," but a notice posted on the EU's tendering website TED in August shows that the contracting procedure was cancelled following the submission of just one bid. [1] It is unknown which firm made the bid.

The failure to acquire a plane is a blow to the agency's plans to "develop its own technical resources" mentioned in its 2012 report, [2] but other attempts to acquire its own equipment appear to be taking shape.

Frontex was hoping to undertake test flights during July for surveillance of the Greek-Turkish border using an optionally-piloted aircraft (OPA) leased from Austrian firm Scotty Group. [3] The trial never took place (the company failed to obtain a flight licence from the Greek government), but Frontex is looking at OPAs as "a long term option" for use in airspace where rules would prevent the use of unmanned drones. [4]

The deployment of the Eurosur border surveillance system, approved by the European Parliament last week, is also likely to lead to an increase in the equipment available to the agency. Drones, satellite systems and sensors of various types across the Mediterranean and beyond will feed information into the system.

In the wake of the deaths of hundreds of people off the coast of Lampedusa in early October, EU officials have trumpeted Eurosur as a potential means for saving the lives of migrants trying to reach Europe by boat. Others argue that this portrayal of the system hides its true purpose of securing the EU's borders against those who travel to Europe irregularly. [5]

But with or without Eurosur, Frontex will still be heavily reliant on the EU's Member States for access to equipment. Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström last week called for national governments "to quickly make available the necessary resources" that would allow Frontex to begin a "search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, from Cyprus to Spain, to better detect and assist boats in distress". [6]

Further reading

[1] Poland-Warsaw: Purchase of aerial border surveillance service for the EU external land borders, 2013/S 157-273177
[2] Frontex, General Report 2012, p.16
[3] Frontex: "optionally-piloted" aircraft tests, but no drones... yet, Statewatch News Online, 29 May 2013
[4] Nikolaj Nielsen, 'EU looks to 'hybrid drones' for legal shortcut on migration', EUobserver, 14 October 2013
[5] Alois Berger, Goals of Eurosur border scheme questioned, Deutsche Welle, 11 October 2013
Statement by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, on the boat capsized in the channel of Sicily, 11 October 2013
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