Helicopter up in the air

No one knows chopper’s future

The Public Account Committee is preparing to call Civil Service and police witnesses to cast light on controversial purchase of a $3 million police helicopter.

A likeness of the helicopter

This is a likeness of the helicopter that the Cayman Islands owns, but hasn’t seen. Photo: File

Governor Stuart Jack asked the Auditor General Dan Duguay in September to undertake an investigation into the purchase of the helicopter.

Mr. Duguay found that there was no clear documentation of what the required operational capabilities of the helicopter should be, and limited communication between the police and the Civil Aviation Authority about the helicopter.

He pointed out that while procuring and maintaining the helicopter, and storing it in Louisiana, USA since 2007, was a costly exercise, those costs could be recouped if the helicopter were sold.

‘The helicopter is not here yet. I am not privy as to why it’s not here. I would be interested to find out why there has not been any specific action,’ Mr. Duguay told Public Account Committee members on Wednesday.

Sell it or bring it here

‘The choices are starkly clear. Either decide that this helicopter is not suitable and sell it, or do the things that are necessary, including clearances from the Civil Aviation Authority to get it operational and have it here. As far as I know, neither one of these things have been done yet,’ he said.

He said that East Midlands Air Support Unit in the UK had sold the helicopter to Cayman because European standards for helicopters were due to change in 2010, requiring full auto pilot on helicopters that are flown at night. It would have been too costly to retrofit the aircraft to meet those new standards.

If those standards were adopted in Cayman and other parts of the Caribbean, it would mean that the helicopter would quickly become obsolete and difficult to sell, the committee heard.

Mr. Duguay said a vital part of his review was contact with Stuart Kernohan, the then-commissioner of Police who has been accused by the former government of ‘misleading’ them about the capabilities of the helicopter, an allegation Mr. Kernohan has disputed.

The idea of buying a police helicopter was first mooted in June 2005 when police made a presentation to Cabinet about the possible establishment of an Air Support Unit. The second-hand EC135T1 twin-engine helicopter was bought from the East Midlands Air Support Unit in July 2007.

The government paid $2,962,200, including the cost of transporting the helicopter to the United States and retrofitting it.

The committee is calling a number of witnesses, including the current police commissioner David Baines, the Civil Aviation Authority’s Richard Smith, and the assistant deputy chief secretary (uniformed division) Eric Bush to answer questions about the purchase of the helicopter at a meeting next week.

Bodden Town MLA Dwayne Seymour pointed to problems that have been encountered with marine police boats and the helicopter showed there might be a systematic problem with purchasing equipment within the government.

‘Every time we buy equipment, it’s the wrong equipment,’ he said.

The helicopter was primarily to be used for drug patrols, but was also to be used for search and rescue and evacuation missions.

Under aviation regulations, the helicopter should never be more than 10 minutes from land, unless it was fitted with floatation devices, which could not be retrofitted to that model of aircraft. It also lacked an auto-pilot device and instrument flight rules equipment, which would have allowed it to fly at night.

Adjourned

Wednesday’s meeting had to be delayed once and later adjourned because not enough committee members were present to form a quorum. This led to Chairman Ezzard Miller of North Side stating in the meeting minutes that the failure of United Democratic Party members to attend the meeting as scheduled was ‘unacceptable’.

‘The choices are starkly clear. Either decide that this helicopter is not suitable and sell it, or do the things that are necessary, including clearances from the Civil Aviation Authority to get it operational and have it here. As far as I know, neither one of these things have been done yet.’ – Dan Duguay, Auditor General

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