North West Wales

Drone tests at Llanbedr airfield 'will bring jobs' to area

Llanbedr airfield
The airfield was used for drone testing when it was owned by the military

A deal for drones to be tested at a former RAF base in Snowdonia will bring new jobs to the area from next year, the firm running the site says.

Defence technology company QinetiQ has signed a contract to use Llanbedr, near Harlech, Gwynedd, for drone tests.

Llanbedr Airfield Estates (LAE) said its 2,300m runway can handle larger drones than Aberporth, Ceredigion.

The base employed 130 people before it closed in 2004 and currently has limited use for private landings.

Built in 1938 and used during World War Two, the airfield was used for drone testing by the military before it closed.

In 2011 the Welsh government as owner of the site was granted new permission to test and develop unmanned aerial vehicles.

LAE partner Lee Paul said the deal signed with QinetiQ this month is expected to bring jobs to the site from next year.

He said: "We are in discussions with a number of potential operators at the moment and hope to bring the first ones in in early 2014.

An unmanned aerial vehicle (generic)
Llanbedr's runway can accommodate longer unmanned aerial vehicles

"You have to have people on site to operate them. This could be temporarily for testing and evaluation or if may be longer term if they wish to develop and test them here.

"It's really just an extension of its historical uses and current activity."

When this month's deal was announced, Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: "Llanbedr Airfield has the capacity to significantly increase Wales' capability in the [unmanned aerial systems] arena and its strategic importance was acknowledged by the Welsh government when it was included within the boundaries of Snowdonia Enterprise Zone."

QinetiQ operates the military range radars in Aberporth where the National Aeronautical Centre (NAC) conducts drone research and testing at West Wales Airport.

In the last decade Aberporth has become a centre of excellence for the latest drone technology.

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