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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Excellence aircraft centre opens
The launch included what was said to be the flight of the largest UAV in UK civilian airspace
A centre of excellence for developing unmanned aircraft has officially opened in west Wales with the hope of creating up to 1,000 jobs.

It is hoped ParcAberporth will become a key site for developing and testing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The aircraft have already been used for spying during wars, but can also be used to help with sea rescues and to monitor crops and the weather.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan opened the centre at a ceremony on Wednesday.

The launch was marked by what was claimed to be the largest flying demonstration of UAVs in civilian airspace in the UK.

The Ministry of Defence has recently signed a 700m deal to test these planes at the Aberporth site, which will include a business centre with research and development facilities.

How the park will look - from WDA artist's impression
It is clear that aerospace and its related industries have a very strong future here
First Minister Rhodri Morgan

Construction work on the first phase of ParcAberporth was completed in August 2005 and the park opened last year.

The project aims to create 230 jobs in the first three years, but could eventually create up to 1,000.

The UAV sector is currently worth an estimated 1bn annually worldwide, but this is expected to grow.

As well as military uses, the unmanned craft also have potential for civilian uses, included gathering intelligence in areas hit by storm and fire.

Other applications include power and pipeline inspections.

Mr Morgan said the opening placed Wales "at the heart of the growing UAV sector".

"Wales' aerospace sector already employs 20,000 people and continues to grow and it is clear that aerospace and its related industries have a very strong future here," he added.

Potential use of UAVs could mean help in assessing forest fires and storms

It is thought it will be five years before the military start testing planes at Aberporth, while other civilian uses will take slightly longer.

Dr Sue Wolfe, ParcAberporth project manager, said the launch display was "a major step forward".

"The fact that these systems have received approval to fly from the Civil Aviation Authority and the MoD illustrates that on this occasion the regulatory issues and requirements have been addressed," she said.

'High resolution'

"It effectively lays the foundation for developing the necessary regulations that will enable unmanned systems to fly routinely in the future and we should not underestimate its importance."

Thales UK presented a flight demonstration of the Hermes 450 UAV, which is the basis from which Watchkeeper vehicles will be developed.

High-resolution imagery from its optical and infra-red sensors was transmitted to the ground by a data link and displayed on large screens at the ParcAberporth event.

Richard Deakin, Managing Director of Thales UK's aerospace division called it a "significant milestone".

He added: "Today's achievement means that a future in which the routine flight of unmanned air vehicles in UK civil airspace now looks much closer".

Gareth Hall, the chief executive of the WDA, said companies were lining up to take space at ParcAberporth.

"These jobs will start next month, but we are not going to get 1,000 jobs overnight - these are long-term, sustainable jobs," he said.

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