Counter-attack on chopper

| 18/09/2008

(CNS): In a detailed statement countering the claims of Stuart Kernohan over the helicopter debacle, the Leader of Government Business today laid out the full process of the helicopter’s acquisition. He detailed the original government requirements of the acquisition versus the state of the helicopter now procured, as well as outlining each step of the process and the fact that the Cayman Islands Civil Aviation Authority has said it will not license the craft as it stands.

Kurt Tibbetts, the LoGB, said that he was not prepared to enter in to a war of words with Police Commissioner Kernohan (even if he has the benefit of full salary with little else to do) but that the government must set the record straight. In a long address to the media and on live television today (18 September) Tibbetts outlined the chain of events surrounding the helicopter’s acquisition, the estimated costs, the advice given to government and the actions taken as the process moved along.

 He said that from the outset the government had insisted that any helicopter the country purchased would need to have certain capabilities, and Kernohan was well aware of this. The capabilities included border control, police pursuits, long-range deployment of resources in quick time for all three islands, surveillance and drug interdiction, among others.

The LoGB said government was advised that any helicopter it acquired would need to be fitted with certain role-specificequipment, such as air-to-ground and marine communications, a night-sun searchlight, a public address system, night vision, forward-looking infrared and a winch, to meet the remit.

On 29 November 2006 Tibbetts said that government gave approval to the commissioner for the establishment of a dedicated air-support unit for the RCIPS and for him to establish, then report back, whether it would be better to buy or lease. “There was definitely no lack of clarity on our part as to what we wanted to be able to do with the helicopter, what kind of helicopter we needed and what it was felt it would cost,” added Tibbetts. “And we certainly felt that we had no reason to believe that itwould not have been possible for the Commissioner of Police with his professed knowledge of helicopters and eagerness to see such a unit established to take the matter forward and report back to us.”

The LoGB explained that on 13 March 2007 Kernohan confirmed that purchasing a helicopter was the best option and he had found one that he believed was suitable. “At no time did the Commissioner of Police advise us that the aircraft lacked any of the capabilities that we had agreed it should have, or lacked the potential to be modified,” he said.

The LoGB also stated that Kernohan had advised that costs were in line with those that had been anticipated: around $1.8 million to buy it  plus around $0.4 million to fit it out with the necessary equipment. He said government authorised Kernohan to pursue the purchase subject to getting a professional market assessment on the price.  Tibbetts emphasised again that at this point the commissioner never gave any indication that the helicopter might not meet all of the requirements.

In April 2007, Tibbetts said, Kernohan told government that there was a problem with the helicopter’s  tracking and balance and a maintenance check was being run but again, said the LoGB, no questions about capabilities were raised. Next, the LoGB said, government were informed on 17 Jul 2007 that the craft was likely to cost more than had been anticipated.

The original estimate of $2.2 million was looking more like $2.5 million due to extras such as finders’ fees, inspections, airfreight, a paint job, reassembly and numerous other add-ons which amounted to $166,200. There were also two major piece of equipment that needed to be fitted — low skid gear with pop-out floats at $126,000 and a rescue hoist at $70,000.

“We had anticipated some of these costs, such as that of the winch, and gave our approval,” said Tibbetts. “But this was the first time we had been advised of the need to add the pop-out floats but took it that these were required.”

At this point, however, the government suggested that consideration should be given to any possibilities of reducing costs, but not if it meant a delay or a reduction in capability. However, in November 2007 costs mounted again when cracks were discovered in the helicopter’s skin after it had been sanded down in preparation for painting.

“We were advised it was mandatory that they be repaired,” said the LoGB, who said the cost was estimated at $10,000. At the same time, he said, the government was also informed that the winch (or hoist) had  gone up in price from $70,000 to $200,000. He said government was then advised that the RCIPS was recommending that the money set aside for the "low skid gear and pop-out float" should be deferred to allow for the purchase of the winch. Tibbetts said the commissioner was asked twice what impact, if any, the omission of the "low skid gear and pop-out float" would have on the capabilities of the chopper and he did not indicate it would have any. However LoGB said that Cayman’s CAA has indicated that without the flotation devices the helicopter is restricted to 10 minutes’ flying over water, making flying to the Sister Islands impossible.

The CAA has also noted that the craft is not equipped for flights under instrument flight rules where there is no visual reference to the surface, so it can’t fly in poor weather or at night if establishing a horizon is unattainable.

The LoGB also said that Kernohan took eight months to come to government with his proposals for the storage, maintenance and piloting of the craft once on island. The commissioner eventually said government should approve a proposal it had received from Cayman Islands Helicopters and that Cabinet should tell Central Tenders Committee of the decision. The LoGB said government made it clear they would not circumvent the CTC process and, while they had no issue with the local firm, the matter should still be dealt with by the CTC in the interest of accountability and public scrutiny.

Adding that the government was still committed to securing helicopter services for the RCIPS, Tibbetts said it continued with its assessment of the time scales and costs involved to modify this helicopter, which is currently in Louisiana, or whether selling the unit and starting again would be the better option.

LoGB also added that the process of events surrounding the helicopter issue was well documented in black and white and had nothing to do with notes that were or were not taken by Cabinet as suggested by Kernohan.





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  1. Chris Randall says:

    I wonder if the helicopter presently operated by Cayman Islands Helicopters is equipped for IFR and has floats? It has certainly been over to the Brac at night on at least one documented occasion.

  2. Knal N. Domp says:

    Just curious, but why was Richard Smith and his colleagues at Civil Aviation Authority not consulted on the correct operational requirements for a Police helicopter before the procurement process was implemented? I would have thought that Ritchie would have been a good place to start…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Putting all claims of culpability aside for the purpose of this one point, has anyone sought to confirm just who ( person or company) the helicopter was purchased from?  Surely, that should be investigated also.

    CNS note: The rumour has been deleted from this comment.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I distinctly remember, unless I dreamt this, that there was a press briefing many, many moons ago where a comment was made to effect of, it won’t (the helicopter) do all that we want, but it’s what we can afford for right now.  So it appears that Cabinet may have known at least something about the capabilities of the craft which they now deny. I challenge one of you investigative journalists to research the live tv briefings and I’m sure you’ll find it. We didn’t elect a police chief, we elected a government to watch after these sort of things and they did not.