Police helicopter swoops in

Two-and-a-half years late, chopper arrives

After long years of waiting, the
Royal Cayman Islands Police Service finally has its full-time, fully outfitted
1999 Eurocopter to enhance marine and ground police unit efforts during everything
from suspect manhunts to missing person searches.

The black and gold coloured
aircraft arrived at Owen Roberts International Airport Thursday afternoon,
having flown in from its temporary home in Louisiana, USA, via Cuba to the
Cayman Islands.

It took pilot James McAlpine a
journey of two days and 1,500 miles to get the aircraft to Grand

The vehicle will not immediately be
taking to the air. Police Commissioner David Baines said it would have to
undergo flight tests over the next few weeks to attain Civil Aviation Authority
clearance. RCIPS will also have to train and familiarise Air Support Unit officers on the new craft.

“It depends on how long the
training takes for us to demonstrate and satisfy the Civil Aviation Authority,”
Mr. Baines said.

The chopper needs a police air
operations certificate from the authority, which basically allows the aircraft
to operate lower, and in more extreme flight conditions.  

The aircraft, purchased by the
RCIPS in mid-2007, was originally expected to arrive in September 2007. Interminable
delays due to bidding processes and bureaucratic infighting held up the planned
arrival of the helicopter on several occasions.

The latest arrival delay, in
January of this year, was blamed on the Haiti earthquake affecting available

The RCIPS Air Operations Unit has been busy making
plans for the arrival of the aircraft and training for the staff that will
operate it.

The unit is based at the RCIPS Air Operations offices
at the Owen Roberts International

The 1999 Eurocopter EC135 model, purchased from a UK police service
for $1.8 million, is fitted with FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) cameras and
broadcast-quality daylight cameras, all with recording ability.

“I am sure that the benefits of this technology
will soon become evident, but we do need to complete the training first to
ensure the crew is fully able to realise those benefits,” RCIPS Air Operations
Manager Steve Fitzgerald said in January.

The helicopter also has aviation police radios
that can be used in the Cayman Islands public radio system and carries a ‘Nightsun’
light capable of lighting up an area the size of a football field.

The ‘Skyshout’ public address system is capable of
addressing those on the ground, whether the message is an advisory to look out
for a missing person, a warning to an offender, or passing along other information
during a critical incident.

The helicopter is also fitted with a video downlink
system, which can relay camera images to other officers or commanders, giving
the benefit of real-time images to those on the ground.

The government recently received three bids for
piloting services and is in the process of assessing those applications. The
provision of maintenance for the helicopter is also being negotiated.

The RCIPS has made interim arrangements to ensure
that the aircraft is not delayed any further on commercial grounds.

The pilot flying the aircraft down from Louisiana will be
seconded temporarily to operate it until a bid winner for piloting services has
been announced. A similar arrangement is being made for helicopter maintenance


The RCIPS helicopter arrives Thursday afternoon under the steady hand of pilot James McAlpine.
Brent Fuller