The arrival of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s new helicopter is likely to be delayed for at least a few more months while government tenders for some of the helicopter’s support services.
Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan said last week that he had been told the helicopter’s maintenance and piloting services would be put out for bid, along with the construction of a hangar for the aircraft at Owen Roberts Airport.
‘The Cabinet have decided that it will be tendered — we expect it will take at least six weeks,’ Mr. Kernohan said.
The commissioner said bids for the various support services would be advertised locally first. If those efforts are not successful international bids would have to be received; a process that could take much longer.
The 1999 Eurocopter EC 135-T1 model that the government purchased for $1.8 million earlier this year is still in the Untied States awaiting shipping to Cayman.
‘(The bidding) means a slight delay in the arrival of the helicopter,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘Until we get this sorted out, we cannot bring this helicopter down to the island.’
The aircraft, which was initially slated to be in the Cayman Islands by September, is planned for use in police surveillance and patrol operations. The RCIPS uses a private helicopter it contracts with on an as needed basis for air support.
Mr. Kernohan has previously said the police want the pilot for the RCIPS helicopter to have clocked more than 3,000 hours of flight time fairly recently. The only resident known to have accumulated that kind of flight experience in a helicopter is Cayman Helicopters pilot Jerome Begot.
Commissioner Kernohan is also a pilot and has flown the Cayman Helicopters craft under the supervision of Mr. Begot. However, he has repeatedly denied that he will be piloting the new RCIPS craft when it arrives.
For now, police continue to use the Cayman Helicopters aircraft for patrol missions although Mr. Kernohan has said it is not outfitted with all the surveillance equipment officers will have on the new helicopter.
How much more of a delay there will be in the helicopter’s arrival on island largely depends on the bidding process.
‘I do what I’m told,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘I’m here to follow the directions of the Governor.’
Mr. Kernohan has long pushed government to acquire a helicopter for the RCIPS stating that air support operations are vital to any modern police force.
Residents in several island neighbourhoods have complained about how the Cayman Helicopters aircraft has been used by police this year. A man in South Sound wrote the Caymanian Compass about late-night helicopter activity in his area that was related to police operations. The man said the helicopter was flying about 100 feet above the cemetery and shining a spotlight in the area at 12.30am.
In January, Bodden Town residents were alarmed when the helicopter appeared over the beach near the civic centre. Police said the aircraft was used to help in the arrest of two men who officers said were illegally fishing for lobster.
Bodden Town residents also expressed concern about the noise associated with a helipad being planned at the new emergency response centre, which is in a residential neighbourhood.
Police have previously assured island residents that the helicopter will only be used when required. They also point out air support has been crucial in the apprehension of two canoes carrying ganja off the shores of North Side and East End earlier this year.