There is still a good chance the helicopter bought by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service in mid-2007 will arrive in the Cayman Islands.
Cabinet ministers said last week that a consultant who is independent of the police service has at least preliminarily advised that the air support unit seems to be mechanically sound.
‘We have gotten verbal reports from the technical person that is seems like the helicopter, as it is now equipped, might well be able to work,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said. ‘Even though there will admittedly be some limitations to what the desired ability of the aircraft was for the Cabinet.’
The final report is expected to come to Cabinet members soon for a decision.
‘I’ve learned in this business to be very careful, but I am more positive,’ Mr. Tibbetts added, speaking about the chances of the helicopter coming to Cayman.
The RCIPS purchased the 1999 Eurocopter model from a UK police department in July 2007 for $1.8 million. It spent another $1 million to make repairs and improvements on the aircraft, as well as pay for its storage in the United States and associated shipping costs.
Operating costs for the unit were previously estimated at some $1.1 million per year.
A long-simmering row over the Eurocopter’s purchase erupted last year when Cabinet ministers revealed that the older model helicopter would not be able to fly safely in certain inclement weather conditions, especially at night, and would be restricted in its travelling distance from Grand Cayman.
The helicopter operates under what are known as Visual Flight Rules, rather than Instrument Flight Rules.
Visual flight limitations mean the aircraft may not be able to perform medical evacuations in bad weather or low light. However, for law enforcement purposes, surveillance and ground searches can still be done with a visual flight helicopter unit.
Instrument flight would generally not affect ground searches, for instance, because conditions would have to be clear enough for someone on the helicopter to see a suspect.
Another issue identified with the aircraft is that permanent floatation devices cannot be installed. Cabinet ministers were advised this would limit its ability to fly over water unless ‘pop-out’ floatation devices were installed.
Ministers previously blamed ex-RCIPS Commissioner Stuart Kernohan for not informing them of the aircraft’s limitations in the areas of search and rescue and medical operations.
Mr. Kernohan fired back, implying that ministers had simply not paid attention during briefings on the subject.
Auditor General Dan Duguay said in a special report on the matter that poor communication seemed to have been at the heart of the helicopter dispute.