Swiss drones to monitor football fans from above

 - May 18, 2008, 12:08 AM

For the upcoming European football championship, jointly hosted by Switzerland and Austria, the Zurich police department has decided to supplement its crowd control systems using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) supplied and operated by the Swiss air force as observation platforms. Light drones are cheaper to fly than manned aircraft and will free helicopters for other tasks such as carrying personnel. Police forces in Bern and Basel, two other Swiss cities where games are scheduled, are also considering the use of UAVs, while Geneva has ruled them out for the time being.

The drones flown in Zurich will be operated from a control center at Emmen air base, about 25 miles south of the city. A “pilot” and an observation systems operator–both JAR-licensed pilots familiar with air traffic rules–control each drone.

They will fly in controlled airspace to the stadium, where they will circle in airspace temporarily closed to traffic except police and rescue helicopters. The closed circular airspace with a diameter of 24 nm extends upward to 10,000 feet and does not interfere with flight patterns of nearby airports.

The UAVs will transmit observation data directly to police headquarters to allow immediate reaction to critical crowd movements, potential conflict situations between supporters of different teams and traffic jams in the build-up stage. The Zurich police has tested the drones on a previous occasion and found them very satisfactory.

For observation missions in Basel and Bern, the UAVs will reach the stadiums in special air channels published as restricted areas and activated or deactivated as needed.

The Ruag Ranger was the first UAV authorized to fly in nonsegregated civil airspace. The Rangers are a version specially modified by Ruag under license from Israel Aircraft Industries (see box). The aircraft is powered by a 45-hp two-stroke two-cylinder piston engine driving a pusher propeller.

The Swiss Rangers carry both optical and infrared observation systems for day and night operation. Launched from a trailer-mounted steam catapult, the drones are retrieved by Ruag’s automatic landing system called OPATS (Object Position and Tracking System), also employed by other types of UAVs. When the drone is about to land, the pilots (or programmed flight path) fly it into the OPATS guidance window at which point it locks onto the system’s laser beam and is guided to the chosen grass landing area that measures at least 650 by 65 feet. The Ranger lands like an airplane, but on skids, rather than wheels.

Military use of Swiss air force Rangers includes tactical reconnaissance and artillery fire target control. Civil applications include remote area border control on behalf of customs authorities in addition to occasional missions such as sports events monitoring.   

Slot Shortages Predicted during Football Championship

Executive aircraft are expected to escape the handling and parking capacity crunch in Switzerland and Austria during the European football championship in June, but a shortage of slots is anticipated at busy airports of larger participating towns. While extra trains will transport spectators to the stadiums, considerable numbers of sports enthusiasts from countries too distant for rail and road travel–such as Portugal, Turkey and Russia–will arrive by air.

Cities affected are Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna in Austria between June 7 and 18. Then, Basel and Vienna between June 19 and 26, and finally Vienna on June 29.

The Swiss Federal Air Office has advised charter companies to make sure they have parking spots for their stay and has partially lifted the night curfew prevailing at all Swiss airports between 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This measure allows one airliner with at least 95 seats per team to depart to their next destination or home during curfew time. It is intended to ease the shortage of hotel rooms in towns where the championship is held.