Frontex: big spending on aerial surveillance


UK, Austrian and Dutch aviation firms share in multimillion contract for maritime surveillance operations, including surveillance of the Channel.

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Having won part of a contract worth tens of millions of euros last year to carry out surveillance flights for EU border agency Frontex, Dutch company Executive Airborne Systems & Platforms (NL EASP AIR) has been observed conducting surveillance operations over the Channel this year.

On 1 February the Dutch registered plane NL EAPS AIR Dornier 328-110 landed in Amsterdam. On 1 March, this plane flew from Bari to Lille and “has been doing surveillance flights ever since”, according to Watch the Channel. The organisation also reports that an Italian Guardia di Finanza aircraft has been conducting Channel surveillance.

Last December it was announced that Frontex would launch surveillance aircraft over the Channel "to prevent the rising number of sea crossings," marking the first deployment of the EU's border agency to prevent departures from the EU, rather than arrivals into it.

As previously reported by Statewatch, Frontex spent over €100 million on aerial surveillance between 2014 and 2020. Expenditure included a €50 million contract with Airbus and Elbit for “aerial surveillance services by the means of Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (MALE RPAS) for maritime purposes,” for possible deployment in Greece, Italy and Malta; and a €14.5 million contract extension with Diamond-Executive Aviation, CAE Aviation, EASP Air and Indra for “maritime area aerial surveillance.”

In 2021, €84 million – one-sixth of the agency’s annual budget – went to aerial surveillance services, with almost €54 million earmarked for a joint contract between Frontex and the European Fisheries Control Agency that was awarded to UK company DEA Aviation, as well as with a group of economic operators including NL EASP AIR. Scotty Group Austria GmBH and 2Excel Aviation (UK) are also part of the consortium.

The contract for “Frontex Surveillance Aircraft Services for Border and Coast Guard Functions (FSA I)” includes regular services involving “both scheduled and unscheduled surveillance missions in the areas of interest”. The mid-range maritime surveillance missions will share information with the agencies via a remote mission portal and compile operational pictures, as well as live streaming raw data.

60% of the lot awarded to DEA Aviation is likely to be subcontracted to third parties, who might provide aircraft, equipment or personnel.

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