/Mysterious outback aviation drone incident linked to UK Defence

Mysterious outback aviation drone incident linked to UK Defence


April 12, 2019 08:24:38

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has been linked to a mysterious aviation incident in the Western Australian outback.

Key points:

  • Airbus says one of its aircraft was involved in an incident during an experimental flight
  • The flight ended early due to adverse weather conditions
  • Airbus has used WA’s remote far north as a base for its high-altitude Zephyr drone since last December

Reports have emerged in recent days about a reconnaissance-style drone that crashed near the remote town of Wyndham in the state’s far north.

After inquiries by the ABC, a spokeswoman for Airbus said one of its aircraft was involved in an incident in the area during an experimental flight for the UK’s defence department.

The purpose of the flight remained unclear with state and federal authorities remaining tight-lipped on further details.

The ABC has contacted the British High Commission.

Test flight called off

The Airbus spokeswoman said the aircraft was undergoing a test flight which it was forced to end early due to adverse weather conditions.

She could not say whether a crash occurred.

Reports that technology giant Facebook was involved in the flight have also been denied.

Remote region used as base

The isolated region, more than 2000 kilometres from Perth, has been used by Airbus since last December as a base for its high-altitude Zephyr drone.

With a 25-metre wingspan, the so-called state-of-the-art aircraft is solar powered and able to fly un-manned at more than 65,000 feet.

After almost 12 months pursuing the project, the McGowan Government announced the collaboration with Airbus, the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley and local stakeholders.

The Zephyr’s wide ranging “civil and defence capabilities” were highlighted at the time of the announcement with the “unrestrictive airspace and reliable weather conditions” making the area a choice location.

With up to 20 Airbus staff working on the project, the initiative was sold as part of an ongoing effort to establish an emerging space industry.

Authorities tight-lipped

Authorities have been reluctant to release details about the incident.

Airservices Australia confirmed it was made aware of a crash after its staff cleared airspace for the flight in March.

It said no-one was hurt.

“Airservices Australia was aware of the flight near Wyndham due to the role of our air traffic controllers in keeping other aircraft out of the temporarily restricted airspace for this activity on 15 March 2019,” a spokesperson said.

“Airservices became aware that the aircraft involved had crashed, but does not have a role in reporting to CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) or the ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) in these circumstances.”

“Any investigation would be the function of the ATSB or CASA.”

According to an ATSB spokesperson, the authority “does not investigate safety occurrences involving non-civilian registered aircraft”.

CASA told the ABC, Airbus “hold the appropriate approval for these drone operations [and] have informed CASA of all relevant matters”.

Premier Mark McGowan, Minister for Innovation Dave Kelly and Minister for Defence Issues Paul Papalia have been contacted for comment.

While you’re here… are you feeling curious?