Local pilot at controls of new spy plane
By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency has recently acquired two new planes for aerial surveillance, and one is being captained by a Shetlander.
Bjorn Sandison, 30, from Walls, who has been working in aerial surveillance for four years, was at RAF Kinloss on Tuesday when Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead met the crew of the new additions to the fisheries protection fleet.
The two brand new Cessna F-406 planes, each of which cost £3.3 million, are the same type as the service previously used but have updated electronics, avionics and surveillance equipment, including search radar and an infra-red camera, with which fishing gear is visible in the dark. Mr Lochhead flew from RAF Kinloss to Edinburgh Airport to get an expert insight into the monitoring and surveillance of Scotland’s fisheries.
He then performed the official commissioning ceremony and formally welcomed the new aircraft into service.
Speaking at the ceremony Mr Lochhead said: “This impressive aircraft will perform a vital role in enhancing the monitoring and surveillance capabilities of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency.
“Aerial surveillance forms a central component of SFPA’s task of monitoring the fishing industry’s compliance with UK, EU and international fisheries laws.
“This is the second F406 aircraft to enter service in recent times and I am delighted that much of the surveillance equipment has been developed by Caledonian Airborne Systems in Aberdeen.
“We are committed to effective fisheries management and with a new Marine Bill and additional responsibilities in the pipeline the arrival of this plane could not come at a better time.”
Captain Sandison gained his commercial pilot’s licence in 2002 and has worked in fishery protection since his employers, Highland Airways, were awarded the contract in 2004. He said the new planes will enhance the service’s capability in a job which involves scanning an area of 130,000 square miles of Scottish waters, from east of Shetland to the Norwegian line, from Rockall in the west to the coast of northern Ireland.
Captain Sandison, who had wanted to fly since he was eight years old, said he felt “really lucky” to do such an interesting job (and to get back to Shetland about once a fortnight, when he tries to visit his parents in Walls).
“On a nice day it’s a real pleasure and we see parts of Scotland and Shetland most people never see. The flip side is when we have gales, rain and snow – it makes challenging flying. We do four to six hours patrols and it’s quite tiring getting thrown around in turbulence for hours.”
His daily work, he said, is information gathering, searching in sea areas ordered by SFPA to make sure that what is happening at sea tallies with what SFPA know themselves. There are boats of various nationalities SFPA takes a “particular interest” in, he said.
SFPA head of operations Alastair Beveridge said: “SFPA are delighted to welcome into service this new generation of surveillance aircraft. The updated avionics, surveillance and communications equipment fitted to these aircraft combined with the increased endurance will significantly enhance our current aerial surveillance capability.
“This will allow SFPA to respond to future changes in fishing patterns as well as enhancing our ability to monitor fishing and other activities in the increasing number of maritime closed areas intended to protect fragile seabed habitats.”