Israel first country to authorize military drone flight in civilian airspace

Elbit’s state-of-the-art Hermes 900 StarLiner will make Israel the first country in the world to authorize use of drones in civilian aviation areas, but the purpose is shrouded in secrecy.

By Gur Salomon , World Israel News

Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) has recently granted Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900 StarLiner, one of the world’s most advanced military-owned Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), certification that allows its operation in the country’s entire civil aviation airspace, thus removing the strict limitation on the aircraft’s use in separate air corridors designated for military needs only, technology news site TechTime reported.

The ICAA’s approval completes Hermes 900’s compliance with NATO’s international regulatory conditions for the safe integration of UAVs into civilian airspace alongside manned aircraft.

“The licensing received by Hermes StarLiner is consistent with international activity on the issue,” said ICAA chief Joel Feldsho, who noted that Israel is the first in the world to authorize the use of a drone in civilian airspace.

The permit is the culmination of a six-year process that included “thousands of work hours and dozens of inspections, laboratory experiments, field experiments and intensive flight experiments (most of which are reported to have taken place over Masada and the Dead Sea) conducted under our supervision,” Feldsho said, according to TechTime.

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Weighing in at 1.6 tons and with a wingspan of 17 meters, the Hermes 900 StarLiner has a maximum service ceiling of 25,000 feet and can remain airborne for 36 hours. It has a maximum payload of 450 kg. that includes state-of-the-art day and night cameras, radar and other advanced systems.

The model has been sold to several foreign militaries with which Israel maintains good and trustworthy ties, including Switzerland.

Israel pioneered UAV technology beginning in the mid-1970s. The Israel Air Force relies heavily on Hermes 900 and a long line of other drones for reconnaissance missions over countries in the region, with its UAVs logging more flight hours annually than all of its manned aircraft combined.

Such aircraft, aka predator drones, are also used for missile strikes, though Israel has never officially acknowledged the use of armed drones.

The nature of the missions that the Hermes 900 StarLiner will carry out in the skies over Israel is unclear. But a 2019 statement appearing on Elbit’s official website, on the ongoing assembly and expected delivery of StarLiners to the Swiss military, sheds light on what those missions may be.

“Security events, such as the dismantling of ISIS and diverse geo-political tensions, have caused European countries to re-orient defense efforts from involvement in far-away conflicts to coping with intensifying homeland and border security challenges,” the statement reads.

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“This shift has resulted in a growing demand for advanced yet mature UAS that can be safely integrated into civilian airspace and provide the technological capabilities that are required to effectively and safely perform complex homeland and border security missions,” it concludes.