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Countdown to 2010 April 2009

February 12, 2009 is a special day in Vancouver with the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics now only 365 days away. This is the final countdown. Construction of the competition venues finished months ago and the facilities have had their baptism under fire as Vancouver and Whistler hosted a series of international events to introduce the facilities to the competitors.


March 20, 2009
By Paul Dixon

Topics

February 12, 2009 is a special day in Vancouver with the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics now only 365 days away. This is the final countdown. Construction of the competition venues finished months ago and the facilities have had their baptism under fire as Vancouver and Whistler hosted a series of international events to introduce the facilities to the competitors. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both competitors and spectators. 

While the Olympic competitors were test-driving the venues, Olympic security organizers were running through a series of real and simulated exercises known as Operation Silver. Under the direction of the RCMP, the Olympic security force will comprise 8,000 RCMP, local police and private security, augmented by 4,000 military personnel.

Operation Silver began with a media briefing held at HMCS Discovery, the naval reserve station in Stanley Park. The briefing was conducted by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer, the man in charge of 2010 security; Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, Commanding Officer of Joint Task Force Pacific and Joint Task Force Olympics; and John Oakley, acting Director of Emergency Management B.C.

Pile stated that 2010 security forces face a challenging environment, with a major urban centre, mountainous terrain, vast ocean spaces and one of the busiest airspaces in Canada. Asked about previous reports that the proposed level of support to the Olympic security effort would have a severe impact on Canadian operations in Afghanistan, Pile responded that both initiatives would be “appropriately and adequately staffed and equipped.” Asked about the potential involvement of the American military in 2010, Pile gave a very precise answer about Canada’s partnership with the U.S. in Norad. In response to a broader question about American involvement in Olympic planning, Mercer acknowledged that a number of U.S. agencies including the FAA and Homeland Security have been included to date. With both Mercer and Pile displaying surgical precision with their responses, the answers to the questions lay as much in what was not said.

Moving outside to view the assembled police and military equipment and personnel, it was readily apparent the impact commercial aviation could have on Olympic security. The helipad at HMCS Discovery was staged with an RCMP AS350B3, and a Canadian Forces CH-146 Griffon along with assorted police and military vehicles. As the media took advantage of the photo op, a steady stream of floatplanes glided overhead on their way to landing a few hundred metres away in front of the Trade and Convention Centre, which will be the international media centre for the Olympics. The security implications for floatplane operators are obvious.

Up the Sea To Sky corridor, Canadian Forces will be establishing bases at Squamish airport (YSE) and at Pemberton airport (CYPS) and as many as four others in the region. The mayor of Pemberton stated in January that the CF would be installing a temporary radar facility at the airport to help security personnel track air activity.

Nav Canada has not yet responded to questions regarding radar and other navigation aids purportedly being installed between Vancouver and Whistler for 2010, to determine if these are for the benefit of all aviators or specifically for the benefit of security forces.

VANOC is committed to moving thousands of athletes, officials and spectators between Vancouver and Whistler by bus every day. Even with a billion-dollar upgrade nearly complete, the 80-kilometre Sea To Sky highway is the only road link and susceptible to the extremes of weather and challenging geography. While the CN rail line runs beside the highway for much of the route, it faces the same pitfalls as the highway. It would seem there will be a need to provide a level of VIP transportation other than by bus or even limousine. 

Helicopter is the only other means of transportation to and from the Whistler Olympic site, especially for those whose status or position precludes sitting on a bus. Operation Silver would have given the police and military the opportunity to work with commercial operators under the same flying conditions that can be expected during the Olympics to get a better idea of what is possible in this congested area. With as many as 40 military and police helicopters anticipated to be operating around the Vancouver area and up Howe Sound to Whistler supporting the security operation, there is no room for error. Yet, as this opportunity passes, there has been no discussion with those local operators best suited to provide Olympic service.


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