No rescue winch installed
The helicopter purchased by the Cayman Islands Government more than two years ago will finally come to the Cayman Islands.
Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush confirmed that Cabinet had recommended the delivery of the helicopter to the Cayman Islands and the completion of whatever works necessary for it to meet all requirements of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Bush said Cabinet also recommended the Royal Cayman Islands Police go forward with the formation of a Police Air Support Unit and to conduct whatever training necessary in support of that unit.
It is hoped the Police Air Support Unit can commence active operations in December 2009, he said. The helicopter itself is due to arrive on Island in September, if all goes according to plan.
The decision follows a report produced by Steve Fitzgerald of Clear Sky Consultants concerning the helicopter. That report concluded that, contrary to earlier reports, the helicopter would not have to have autopilot or its skids fitted with floatation devices to be used for police operation.
The Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee heard testimony Wednesday from Police Commissioner David Baines that indicated neither device would be absolutely necessary for day-to-day policing operations.
‘I’m fairly content that this helicopter, in its current format, will do 90 per cent of what we’re asking it to do, maybe 95 per cent,’ Mr. Baines told committee members.
One of the other sticking points brought up by the former People’s Progressive Movement Cabinet was that the helicopter does not have a winch to allow rescues.
Mr. Baines told the Public Accounts Committee that a winch was not a necessary piece of equipment, and that this particular helicopter should probably not be fitted with a winch anyway.
Auditor General Dan Duguay advised the committee that it should consider the reasons why the Islands originally purchased this aircraft.
‘Everybody has something they want this helicopter to do…but you have to sit down and ask what you want this thing to do every day,’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘Some things we’d like to have, but may be too expensive for a small country.’
Cabinet Minister Mike Adam confirmed that the helicopter will not be fitted with the winch, which he said was an afterthought of the previous government in any case.
‘The winch couldn’t be installed without a significant modification and it wouldn’t be cost effective to make such a modification,’ he said, adding that the helicopter wasn’t built for rescues.
However, Mr. Adam expressed some concern that the helicopter wasn’t the best choice for Cayman’s border control either.
‘I’m not convinced it’s the right machine,’ he said.
‘With any vehicle, whether it’s a car, a truck or a plane, you should ask ‘What is the mission you want it to accomplish’?
‘I don’t believe this helicopter will fulfil the requirement of real border control.’
Members of the Public Accounts committee concurred with Mr. Adam’s views.
‘In my view, (former Cayman Islands Police) Commissioner Stuart Kernohan…was going to get this helicopter here any way he could,’ Bodden Town MLA Dwayne Seymour said.
‘We need to make an informed decision about how the country’s money is being spent, that’s all we’re asking for,’ Opposition MLA Moses Kirkconnell said.
Mr. Adam said he believes a fixed-wing airplane would serve the best protection for border control in the long run, especially when considering that Cayman Brac and Little Cayman also need coverage.
‘Cayman Brac is 80 miles away and that’s a long way for a helicopter,’ he said.
But Mr. Baines said the aircraft should have absolutely no problem flying to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman for police-related missions. He also pointed out that the current aircraft police rent from the Cayman Helicopters company has performed several rescue operations in recent years that it is not licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority to do.
‘I’d rather have my knuckles rapped and pay a fine than stand at someone’s funeral,’ Mr. Baines said.
Mr. Adam hopes the police will conduct a comparison study of using a helicopter versus a fixed-wing aircraft over the long run if border control is its main mission. He noted that the helicopter was very expensive to operate.
It has been estimated the helicopter will cost CI$3,000 per hour to operation and some CI$1.2 million per year based on 400 hours of annual flight time.
But Mr. Adam said the helicopter could still help the police.
‘It’s obviously better than not having any eyes in the sky, so to speak,’ he said.
Mr. Adam explained another reason why the government did not simply sell the helicopter.
‘The market for aircraft is devalued right now,’ he said. ‘For what was paid, we wouldn’t have been able to get the money back out of it.’