Specially-trained officers are to be given drones that will be deployed in the search for missing people across the north-east.
One will be based in Aberdeen and the other in Inverness and they will take to the skies from next Wednesday.
At present, police needing an aerial view of a search area which is hard to access depend on Police Scotland’s Air Unit helicopter, which is expensive to run – more than £1,500 an hour.
In most cases, the chopper has to fly from its base at Clyde Heliport in Glasgow and there can be a delay in its arrival – or it might be unavailable due to high demand or poor weather.
However, the drones will be cheaper, easier and faster to deploy.
New figures show 3,494 people were reported missing in the north-east in 2018 – an average of almost 10 a day – and the drones, also called remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), will be an extra tool for police to find them.
The state-of-the-art technology will also help road officers investigate car crashes and be used in operations and training exercises. They are fitted with two cameras, including a high-strength zoom to focus on images on the ground.
All images captured by the drone are instantly relayed to the operator – and the drones can also detect heat sources.
North-east divisional commander Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson said: “The north-east is a hugely diverse place, with both urban and rural areas, and the addition of RPAS will bring huge benefits to the communities we serve and complement the equipment and dedicated officers we have keeping people safe.
“Similar to the Highlands and Islands, we see a high number of missing person inquiries that cover large geographical areas – so the RPAS will be of great benefit to officers as well as the additional support it will provide at other incidents such as serious road traffic collisions.”
Several officers have now undergone specialist training, learning how to fly the drones safely and effectively.
The machines will be transported in a marked police vehicle and flown by officers in uniform.
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Evening Express newsletter
Police said they will make every effort to inform people when the drone is flying in their area.
Police Scotland head of specialist services Chief Superintendent Matt Richards said: “The addition of the RPAS to our air support capability will ensure we can deliver this service to the north of the country when, previously, weather or terrain may have prevented or delayed this.
“They will not replace the helicopter, and there will still be occasions where we deploy the helicopter in the north rather than the RPAS.”
Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This state-of-the-art new equipment will help Police Scotland keep communities safe, enhancing their search capabilities for vulnerable people, particularly over wide and challenging terrain.
“The Scottish Government continues to support innovation within Scotland’s police service and has ensured that the policing budget for 2019-20 is more than £1.2 billion.”
Scottish Police Authority chairwoman Susan Deacon said: “This new system is a further step forward in ensuring Police Scotland has the tools and technology they need to keep people and communities safe.”