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Bringing in Backup

For years, the Edmonton Police Service’s AIR 1 helicopter has been a familiar sight in city skies. In fact, this Eurocopter EC120 has been so busy, that it’s become a recognized icon of the city; like the NHL Oilers and the sprawling West Edmonton Mall.


July 29, 2009
By James Careless

Topics

For years, the Edmonton Police Service’s AIR 1 helicopter has been a familiar sight in city skies. In fact, this Eurocopter EC120 has been so busy, that it’s become a recognized icon of the city; like the NHL Oilers and the sprawling West Edmonton Mall.

Air1-009
Since starting operations in the summer of 2001, AIR 1has averaged 1,100 flight hours a year.


Such is the usefulness of AIR 1, that the City of Edmonton recently spent $2 million to buy a second helicopter. Dubbed AIR 2 and delivered on June 30, 2009, this new aircraft is also an EC120 (see sidebar). For the record, the EC120 is a five-seater (one pilot, four passengers) equipped with a single Turbomeca Arrius 2F turbine engine and Fenestron tail rotor. It has a fast cruise speed of 120 knots and a range of 383 nautical miles. Like AIR 1, AIR 2 is equipped with a FLIR visible light/infrared video camera systems and MRC microwave link for transmitting live video to the ground, plus a NightSun spotlight.

“With just AIR 1, we’re unavailable for a certain percentage of time due to regularly scheduled maintenance and unanticipated repairs,” explains Dave Berry, EPS staff sergeant in charge of flight operations. “That’s the problem when you only have one helicopter: When it’s down, you are not available to respond to emergencies and callouts. With the addition of AIR 2, we will be available for service 24/7.”

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Note the word “available”: Although the Edmonton Police are adding an extra pilot and service person to help with AIR 2, they still don’t have enough staff to have pilots on duty 24/7: just on call. Still, this is a substantial enhancement to the EPS’ existing possible service. Due to maintenance, AIR 1 is only available 64 per cent of the time, rather than the desired 100 per cent.   

Obviously AIR 1 could use some backup. Since starting operations in the summer of 2001, this EC120 has averaged 1,100 flight hours a year. “At 8,800 hours, AIR 1 holds the record for EC120 airframe flight hours,” says Staff Sgt. Berry. “No one else comes close, by a long shot.” Put another way, AIR 1 responds to an average of 11 calls every night – even with 36 per cent downtime!

Because of this heavy service, AIR 1 reaches its regularly scheduled maintenance periods relatively quickly. “We hate to take it out of service for maintenance, but we absolutely have to for safety’s sake, and precisely because AIR 1 is used so much,” he tells Helicopters. With AIR 2 on duty, this will change. In fact, AIR 1 will get a much-needed rest, because it will serve as backup with AIR 2 handling the lion’s share of flying duties.

Edmonton-Air-2
AIR 2 is Edmonton’s second EC120B.


Airborne-over-Houses
For years, the Edmonton Police Service’s AIR 1 helicopter has been a familiar sight in city skies.


THE EPS’ FLIGHT OPERATIONS UNIT
AIR 1 is managed by the EPS’ Flight Operations Unit. It is one of only six such full-time police helicopter units in Canada, and the only one whose pilots are sworn members of the police force. “All of our officers who fly for us were pilots first,” says Staff Sgt. Berry.

“EPS Constables with a minimum of eight years of service can apply for positions as Tactical Flight Officers when there are positions available,” says the EPS’ website (www.joineps.ca). “Members are encouraged to quarry with the unit and volunteer their time in order to gain first-hand experience and determine if they would be a good fit for that position. Members interested in joining Flight Operations Unit as a pilot need to have a valid Helicopter License prior to joining the unit.”   

“All of our initial rotary pilots were pilots first before coming to Flight Ops,” Staff Sgt. Berry says. “However, we have cross-trained experienced police officers who have an existing fixed-wing license.”

The EPS Flight Operations is based at the Edmonton City Centre Airport – sort of.  “We share a hangar with the RCMP at the airport, while our flight crew is housed at the Police K9 section building across the street,” he says. “That will change soon, when our new integrated hangar/base opens later this year at the airport.” The annual budget for the unit, excluding pilots and ground crew, is $710,000.

Clearly, this is money well spent: Besides all the criminals apprehended and lives saved over the years, AIR 1 has an incident-free safety record. That’s right; AIR 1’s pilots and ground crew have kept the world’s most flown EC120 incident-free. One reason is the EPS’ emphasis on putting safety first. “We only fly in VFR conditions,” says Staff Sgt. Berry. “If we can’t see clearly, we don’t fly. After all, if you need instruments to fly, you’re not going to be able to see what’s happening on the ground.”

The second reason is the EPS ground crew’s careful and consistent maintenance of AIR 1. Without such dedication, no helicopter would ever fly incident-free, no matter how skilled the pilots.

THE MISSION
As an integral part of the Edmonton Police Service, AIR 1 serves many duties in support of ground-based officers. “We help in specialty situations such as locating missing persons, monitoring crowds at demonstrations and celebrations, and providing an extra ‘eye in the sky’ during heavy traffic,” says Staff Sgt. Berry. “Using our thermal camera and microwave link, we can show the fire department where the hot spots are in burning buildings, in real time. Our intelligence can help them manage their firefighters and resources more effectively on the ground, and keep people safe.”

That’s not all:  “Part of our mandate is to manage any and all criminal flight pursuits, in addition to providing support to ground patrols,” he says. In the past eight years, AIR 1 has taken part in 335 pursuits. “Our apprehension rate is more than 99 per cent.”

In 2007 alone, AIR 1 managed 53 criminal flight incidents with a 100 per cent apprehension rate. During that year, the helicopter attended 2,863 support calls, and “was responsible for the arrest of 347 individuals who otherwise may have evaded capture,” says the EPS website. Average response time? An impressive 90 seconds!

Here’s an example of AIR 1 in action: In the summer of 2007, the Edmonton Police worked together with the RCMP’s Eurocopter AS350B3 in tracking two men – one of them armed with a rifle – who had fled a stolen truck. The chase was sufficiently long, that the helicopters took turns refuelling at temporary fuel dumps brought in by police vehicles.

At one point, the suspects thought they would lose the ground-based police dog and handler chasing them, by cutting through a dense forest. They were only fooling themselves: “While the RCMP kept an eye on the suspects’ location, AIR 1 landed, picked up the dog and handler, and flew them to the other side of the forest where they eventually caught the suspects,” says Staff Sgt. Berry. “They were sure surprised to be caught by a ‘flying police dog’!”  
    
THE FUTURE
The arrival of AIR 2 is great news for the Edmonton Police Service and the city it serves. With this second helicopter, the EPS can truly provide 24/7 service, rather than the 64 per cent it’s been able to achieve with just one helicopter.

Still, “we look forward to the day when we have pilots on duty 24/7,” says Staff Sgt. Berry. “That’s a matter of personnel, and personnel is hard to come by these days. But one day this may happen, because people in Edmonton understand the difference a police helicopter can make to public safety – especially when it is always at the ready.”

AIR 2 Has Arrived
EC-120-DeliveryLeft to right: Sergeant Chris Barbar (EPS), Staff Sgt. Dave Berry (EPS), Insp. Neil Dubord (EPS), Guillaume Leprince, vice-president, sales and marketing (Eurocopter Canada Ltd.) and Const. Vernon Zelent (EPS).


The Edmonton Police Service took delivery of its second Eurocopter EC120B patrol helicopter on June 30, 2009. “The addition of this helicopter to our fleet is a resource multiplier,” said Staff Sgt. Dave Berry of the EPS. “We can be on site faster, increase the speed and efficiency of investigations and provide better support for our officers on the ground, especially during pursuit situations.”

Crews on board comprise one pilot and one tactical flight officer, both of whom are trained police officers. In addition to in-house training, Edmonton Police pilots receive recurrent training at Canadian Helicopters Limited School of Advanced Flight Training in Penticton, B.C.

The Eurocopter EC120B was selected because of its mission suitability and reduced noise impact, thanks to its shrouded tail rotor, Eurocopter’s low-noise patented “Fenestron” – meaning the aircraft can operate 1,200 feet above the city and is barely noticeable. The EC120B is also recognized for its speed, range and lift capability for the equipment carried on board.

“We’re pleased to deliver this second aircraft to the EPS,” said Marie-Agnès Vève, president and CEO, Eurocopter Canada Ltd. “Our fleet of aircraft is a natural fit for law enforcement, helping to provide an extra layer of safety to Canadian cities. We look forward to continuing to build our relationships with the EPS and other police departments across Canada.”


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