A Russian military Tupolev Tu-154M loaded with high definition cameras is flying reconnaissance missions along the Canadian/US border today, with permissions dating back to the Cold War. 

The Tu-154M has optical cameras capable of 30cm (1ft) resolution is flying photographic missions along the eastern Canada/US border section today part of a two-day sortie allowed for under an international treaty.

The specially designed aircraft, manned by 38 Russian military officers plus Canadian observers, was scheduled to depart Trenton, Ontario, at 10:00 this morning on a 4.5h flight that will cover the border of Ontario and the US, including the Niagara peninsula and the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Yesterday’s 12h flight covered the St. Lawrence River, the southern portion of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, according to the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Under the Treaty on Open Skies, first proposed during the Cold War to boost confidence in the arms control process, member countries can fly unarmed observation aircraft over any other signatory’s country given 72h notice. Twenty-six countries ratified the measure in 2002, including Canada, Russia and the United States.

Though sensor packages can include video, optical framing, and panoramic cameras with as good as 30cm resolution, synthetic aperture radar with 3m accuracy and infrared line scanners with up to 50cm resolution, officials say the Tu-154M has only optical cameras.

Canada must allow at least nine and as many as 12 over flights by other countries (passive quota) per year, and itself may fly as many as five flights with its CC-130 Hercules aircraft and sensor pod. Russia, along with Belarus, has a quota of 42 passive and 26 active flights per year.

Source: FlightGlobal.com