Kernohan defends helicopter buy

After several negative letters and public comments in the media about the government’s recent purchase of a police helicopter, Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan sought to defend his department’s $1.8 million expenditure.

‘The benefits of a police helicopter are well-documented and in fact, the decision to have police air support was made before I even arrived on the island,’ Mr. Kernohan said Thursday.

There have also been questions raised about whether the commissioner would be flying the new helicopter after it arrives in mid-September, but he has denied that on at least two occasions.

‘I am the police commissioner,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘I’ll be staying as the police commissioner, that’s what I want to do. I do not have any intentions of being the contract pilot for the police helicopter.’

Mr. Kernohan is a qualified pilot, and said he received that qualification about four or five years ago. That was before he accepted the police commissioner’s job.

He has flown the Cayman Helicopters aircraft during several police-related operations over the past year. However, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has said that occurred only under the supervision of helicopter owner Jerome Begot, who acted as pilot in command.

Mr. Begot has previously allowed his craft to be rented out for police operations. The police have declined to discuss how much was spent on the helicopter rental, despite numerous requests for that information.

Commissioner Kernohan denied, when questioned by the Caymanian Compass, that he was using the Cayman Helicopters craft to gain flying experience.

‘That’s a ridiculous thing to say,’ Mr. Kernohan said.

A contract civilian employee will be hired to fly the new Eurocopter EC-135 model police helicopter when it arrives. The pilot must have clocked more than 3,000 hours of flight time in a helicopter, and that experience must have been gained fairly recently.

It’s not clear if anyone in Cayman, other than Mr. Begot, has that kind of experience.

‘We’ll need to look for local interests first…and if we can’t recruit locally, then we’ll need to go internationally,’ Mr. Kernohan said.

The commissioner also said that the private aircraft owned by Cayman Helicopters may be used by the police in future operations, should the need arise.

‘I think there will still be a role for them,’ he said. ‘When you need to maintain the (police) helicopter, it might be down and we might have to use (Cayman Helicopters). Of course, in a post-disaster situation, air support from two helicopters would be better than one.’

A group of five RCIPS officers recently underwent a four day training course in Orlando, Florida to learn how to use surveillance equipment, perform aerial search and rescues, and observe safety protocols associated with staffing a police helicopter.

The officers will man the chopper part-time and will not be given any training as pilots. There will normally be a civilian pilot and two police officers aboard, but police said the number of crew members will depend on the situation.

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