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FARNBOROUGH: Britten-Norman launches airborne surveillance service

The venerable Britten-Norman Islander is enjoying its latest lease of life here at Farnborough as a platform for a low-cost, pay-by-the-hour aerial surveillance service.

It is being offered by a new company called Airborne Surveillance that shares a common owner with, but is separate from, Britten-Norman, the UK's only remaining airframer. Airborne Surveillance was launched on a trial basis in Australia last year, where Britten-Norman has a business.

The service will provide on-demand surveillance to UK agencies under its own air operator's certificate and with its own crew. An Islander fitted with surveillance equipment is on display at Britten-Norman's outside exhibit next to the flightline.

William Hynett, chief executive of both businesses, says a new focus on value for money in the public sector - as government funding is slashed - could provide an impetus for Airborne Surveillance.

He expects potential customers to include police forces, seeking "infill" for helicopter operations, as well as the military for training ground operators for unmanned air systems.

"There is a lot of belt-tightening going on," he says. "What we can provide is low-cost delivery and a service without capital outlay. We are just starting the ball rolling and it might take a lot of convincing, but we are encouraged by initial responses."

Britten-Norman, based on the Isle of Wight, has built almost 1,300 Islanders over 40 years, of which around 800 are still in use. However, the reliability of the aircraft was its downfall, and, faced with crumbling sales, Britten-Norman has refocused its business on maintenance, repair and overhaul and the special mission market.

It designed a Rolls-Royce 250-BI7-powered version of the Islander called the Defender. Today it manufactures about four examples a year.

The company is also launching a brokerage business at the show, remarketing used Islanders and putting purchasers in touch with vendors. "For years we've blanked the resale market," says Hynett. "But now we are saying as a buyer or seller you can come to us."