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Spain Launches Speed Camera Helicopters
The Spanish government is launching a fleet of high-tech helicopters that will issue speeding tickets from the sky.

DGT speed camera photo
The government of Spain announced last week that it was moving forward with a plan to use surveillance helicopters in major cities to issue speeding tickets. Although several US states already use fixed-wing aircraft for traffic enforcement, the airplane's pilot is limited to employing a low-tech stopwatch time-distance calculation method to guess the speed of the accused motorist while a patrol officer on the ground pulls over the motorist to issue the ticket.

The Spanish system employs a far more expensive solution designed to provide more impressive results without the need for a ground-based unit to verify the driver's identity and slow the ticketing process. A Wescam MX15 forward-looking infrared camera takes close-up photographs of the vehicle's license plate while an airborne radar system generates a speed estimate that appears on the video image.

Officials with Direccion General de Trafico (DGT) claim this radar is accurate from an altitude of 1000 feet and a distance of 1 kilometer (.6 miles). In a test, a helicopter in A Coruna accused the BMW Z4 convertible shown of driving 134 MPH from a distance of nearly half-a-mile. The system cannot be used in court prosecutions until the Ministry of Industry issues the expected paperwork declaring the system accurate.

Despite the enormous expense, DGT hopes to have speed camera-equipped helicopters patrolling Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Malaga, Zaragoza, Valladolid and A Coruna. A Eurocopter EC135 surveillance helicopter used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland cost £3.7 million (US $7.3 million) to purchase in addition to £750,000 (US $1.5 million) in annual operating costs.

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