Police helicopter finally here

Aircraft won’t be taking to the skies just yet

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 units from everything to
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’s about…boosting our border
security issues, it’s about tackling drugs, it’s about preventing guns entering
the island,” Police Commissioner David Baines said. “It’s here to make a
difference to security on the Islands.”

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

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 Air Support Unit members will also require training and
familiarisation with the new aircraft.  

“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 helicopter, purchased by the
RCIPS in mid-2007, was once 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
routes.

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
Airport.

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.

Mr. Baines said the two engine aircraft
can operate up to 65 miles off shore, though it does not have floatation
devices installed, it can fly long enough on one engine to ensure safe piloting
at that distance. It also has the ability to travel to all three Islands, the commissioner said.

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 the
area of a football field.

The ‘Skyshout’ public address
system is capable of addressing those on the ground, whether the message is an
advisory to lookout 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 helicopter will not be able to
make sea rescues because it is not fitted with a winch. However, Mr. Baines
said the craft would be of great assistance in locating individuals and
pinpointing their location for Marine Unit rescue craft.

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
– Mr. McAlpine – 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 services.

TOPchopperSTORY

The new RCIPS helicopter makes a safe landing at Owen Roberts airport Thursday afternoon.
Photo: Brent Fuller
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