Police: Chopper here to stay

Although Royal Cayman Islands
Police continue to deal with piloting and maintenance issues with the new
patrol helicopter, the head of the police air support unit said this week that
the aircraft is here to stay.

“It’s not going to disappear
overnight, despite what they say,” Air Support Unit Operations Manager Steve
Fitzgerald said during an interview at his office Monday. “In a year’s time,
that aircraft will still be here. You don’t make the commitments we have if we
didn’t intend to follow through.”

Mr. Fitzgerald said temporary
arrangements are in place for the piloting and maintenance of the chopper, a
1999 Eurocopter EC-135 model.

Arrow Aviation of Louisiana, USA is
tending to routine maintenance work, while pilot James McAlpine – initially
brought down on a six-week secondment, is now expected to stay in the Islands
until August while RCIPS work out piloting arrangements.

Despite having to adapt to
circumstance, Mr. Fitzgerald said the annual budget he presented for helicopter
operations was $1 million; about $100,000 less than what was first forecast by
Cayman’s Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs.

“We’re not getting ripped off
here,” he said.

In the short to medium term, police
expect both the piloting and maintenance issues will be worked out.

Mr. Fitzgerald said the police and
Central Tenders Committee are in discussions with a sole-source bidder – a
local company – for maintenance services. Those talks are continuing.

Although at one point police had
looked at hiring a piloting service to fly the helicopter, Mr. Fitzgerald said
it has been decided that RCIPS would actually hire its own civilian pilot in an
effort to keep costs down.

“It’s between 50 to 75 per cent
cost savings with direct employment,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

The police are in the hiring
process for the helicopter pilot, who will be a civilian employee of the RCIPS.

Mr. Fitzgerald said, since the
police helicopter received its certification from the Civil Aviation Authority,
it has been able to respond to every single request for service from the RCIPS.
The police have not had to rely on the services of Cayman Islands Helicopters,
who were previously assisting police with air support.

“Helicopters are expensive, but
it’s what you’re getting for that money,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, adding that the
helicopter was on scene following Friday’s petrol station robbery in Bodden
Town after having already worked an entire day’s shift.

The helicopter is equipped with
three different types of cameras to monitor activity on the ground, including a
forward-looking infrared or FLIR camera crews can use day or night to track
down suspects or missing persons.

The chopper is also able to fly
missions to Cayman Brac, has done so twice since May; an option Cayman Islands
Cabinet members were initially told it would not have with the aircraft.

While the helicopter cannot do air
rescues, it can launch an inflatable raft and a heated stretcher from the back
to assist water rescue victims.

“The value of this aircraft to the
RCIP has been shown,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “What people rightly expect is
service to be delivered. They expect something for their commitment.”