Published 10th December 2018, 4:59pm
FCO Minister of State for the Overseas Territories, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon and Honourable Premier, Alden McLaughlin signed a memorandum of understanding today in London which paves the way for the purchase and operation of a new helicopter by the RCIPS Air Operations Unit.
The new helicopter, which will be used alongside the Unit’s existing aircraft, will boost Cayman’s capability in the areas of search and rescue, law enforcement and border protection operations. The aircraft will also be used to respond to disasters and other emergency situations in the other UK Caribbean Overseas Territories. It is hoped that the helicopter can be brought into operational use in mid to late 2019.
The deal signed in London will see the UK contribute twenty five percent of the purchase price and running costs of the new helicopter from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) with the Cayman Islands providing the balance. The overall cost of the new aircraft is just over US$11 Million which also includes equipment and a training package. The project will also see an increase in staffing levels in the Air Operations Unit. Two new tactical flight officers (TFOs) are being recruited from within the RCIPS and an additional pilot will also join the team. In addition one of the existing TFOs will be seconded to National Helicopters in Trinidad for a 3 to 4 year period where he will train and obtain his flying hours to become a pilot captain prior to his return to Cayman as the first local Caymanian helicopter pilot with the RCIPS.
The new H145 helicopter is being purchased from Airbus who also manufacture the existing H135 used by the RCIPS. The current aircraft has become an essential part of Cayman’s law enforcement operations including the detection and interdiction of illegal shipments of drugs and weapons. It has also proved a life saver for some following successful search and rescue missions and medivacs from the Sister Islands and has deployed twice to assist emergency situations in TCI.
The state of the art H145 takes this capability to another level, providing a larger payload, modern avionics, the ability to serve as an air ambulance, modern detection systems including search and rescue radar and a winch capability. The operation of two helicopters also provides a year round 24/7 capability for the Unit and the ability to assist other territories in the region in times of crisis and disaster.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said: “I’m very happy that we are moving forward with a second helicopter and I thank the Governor's Office for their assistance and the UK Government, in particular Lord Tariq Ahmad, for partnering with us. This helicopter will provide invaluable support to our newly formed Coast Guard agency and the broader national security agencies. This addition to our aerial support will also position us as a centre of excellence with capability and capacity in supporting security, law enforcement, and disaster response for our Caribbean Overseas Territories.”
Lord Ahmad said: ‘The collaboration between Airbus, the Cayman Islands and the UK governments on this project has been excellent and I am delighted that it is moving ahead so quickly. The capability that the new helicopter will bring to law enforcement and missions that will save lives is vitally important. The Cayman Islands have shown their determination to come to the aid of fellow territories during times of crisis and this initiative will also improve the safety and security of all the Caribbean Overseas Territories’.
Governor Martyn Roper said ‘The importance of the role played by the Air Operations Unit in the Cayman Islands is clear. The ability to provide air cover for RCIPS grounds units, to help rescue people at sea and to transport critically ill patients from the Sister Islands is critical to the safety of everyone. The unit also showed its capability and willingness to deploy overseas last year to support relief operations following Hurricane Irma. This has been recognised and the Unit will now take on a wider regional role. I would like to thank the RCIPS, the Governor’s Office, the Premier and the Ministry of Human Resources, Immigration and Community Affairs for the great collaboration that has taken place on this initiative. A proud moment for Cayman.’