Rosh Pina Airport Shut for Drone Trials

Rosh Pina's airport was temporarily closed yesterday when trials were carried out on an Elbit Systems unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Britain had objected to the trials being conducted at the Golan Piq airfield, across the Green Line.

Elbit Systems, which usually uses Piq for UAV tests, reached an agreement with the Airports Authority to run the trials at Rosh Pina, despite fears they could be hazardous to area residents and the environment.

The UAVs are part of the British defense ministry's Watchkeeper project - an 800 million pounds sterling project to provide the British Army with UAVs for all-weather, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance use.

The Watchkeeper, based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV, is expected to begin operating in 2010.

Residents in the area said this is the first time UAV test flights have been carried out from Rosh Pina, and environmental groups warn the activity could pose a threat to area residents and the environment.

The sources told Haaretz that the drones' noise level is higher than permitted.

They also warned of the insurance problems that could arise in the case of an aerial accident or crash in a civilian, populated area.

In addition, keeping the UAVs in Rosh Pina's airport would require building new structures that are not approved by the area's planning commission.

The Airports Authority said the necessary infrastructures would be built on Air Force and Defense Ministry territories; the air strip used for the tests would be the Air Force runway that crosses the civilian runway in the Rosh Pina airport.