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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Flight Safety, Unmanned Aircraft Are International Themes

 The recently concluded Police Aviation Conference illustrated the common interests of airborne law enforcement agencies around the world.

By Bryn Elliot

The Turkish National Police is using Bell Helicopter 429s to support a wide array of law enforcement missions.
Photo courtesy of Bell

The Police Aviation Conference highlighted the common issues confronting airborne law enforcement units around the world, from flight safety and unmanned aircraft to interaction with homeland security agencies.

The annual conference was held May 26-27 in Breda, the Netherlands. I am the organizer of PAvCon, as well as editor of Police Aviation News.

This year’s event was opened with a keynote address by a retired Netherlands air force general, Pieter Cobelens, who declared he knew little about police aviation. But even his copious helping of humor failed to hide some significant links with the security world. That alone bridged any gap there might have been between policing and the military.

It was left to the chief pilot of the host police force, the Royal Netherlands Police, to start off the aviation show with an introduction to policing and aviation in the Netherlands. The presentation of Chief Pilot Sebastiaan Jansen of the national police’s Police Aviation Group was entitled “Patrol and Fly.”

The volunteer safety program manager for the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA), Bryan Smith, returned this year to spur the conversation on flight safety. A deputy and pilot for the Seminole County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office, Smith distributed questionnaires on day one to solicit points of discussion for day two’s session. Attendees returned these in great numbers, providing “meat on the table” for day two’s talks.

The flight safety theme of the conference continued through both days, with items on the dangers of bad weather interspersed with talk of flight planning. All of these are potentially dry subjects, but a professional team of “facilitators” with many years of experience coaxed the best out of the audience.

I do not know who originally found Sgt. Dave Domoney of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), but he certainly has done the industry proud. I found Dave speaking to the September 2013 Police Aviation Conference (a conference of a similar name) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and decided that his words on unmanned aircraft needed a wider audience.

In the meantime, he has grown in status and is now the officer in charge of all the RCMP craft spread across much of western Canada. In Kuala Lumpur, he’d said he had a lot of police unmanned aerial systems (UASs). This year, he has a veritable air force under his control. (In each year since I met Dave, I am pretty certain that the RCMP had the largest number of unmanned aircraft of any police service.

The Canadian position is unique in that all its manned resources tend to be in the east and the west of the country, leaving the vast central areas without any air cover until the tiny quad rotors arrived.

As arguably the leading proponent of light unmanned aircraft within any police service, he captured the audience’s attention.

Although the RCMP has a large number of UASs, those aircraft are not flying every day. Each aircraft may be undertaking an average of two missions each month. (Dave joined ALEA while at PAvCon because, he said, he could see that the organization is the glue that keeps all the widely differing aspects of police aviation together.)

This year, ALEA sent over CEO Dan Schwarzbach and President-Designate Steve Roussell (of the Los Angeles Police Department) to lead a roundtable discussion on ALEA international operations. There may be a general feeling that ALEA is an inward-looking organization, but this is disproved by the group’s decades-long connection with PAvCon and its predecessors, as well as other groups in Europe and in the wider world.

ALEA and commercial companies have met recent requests for airborne law enforcement trainers in Europe, Africa, Australia and Malaysia. No other body has done that.

PAvCon has grown. Over the years since 2009, the number of exhibitors has clawed its way upwards. Last year in Brussels, we had more than 30 exhibitors. This year, the number leaped to 43, which brought in lots of regular faces and a number of new ones. In fact, the increase in numbers outstripped the space available in the main hangar. That meant late-book exhibitors had to set up in an adjacent hangar.

It is the exhibition area that makes these events work, and the number of exhibitors allowed the delegates to vary their conversations throughout the day.

The eight-hour program day included three hours of face-to-face networking. There have been reports that, for some, this simply was not enough and as a result some delegates missed on some presentations. Quite a good position to be in, it might be said.

So we have an event that attracts front-line police aviators from all over the world. This year, for instance, new delegates to PAvCon came from Botswana to meet with industry and exchange operational ideas in an open forum.

I would like to thank a whole host of people, including the speakers, who gave so much of their time even if the cost of transport was covered. I would also like to thank the supporting organizations, including AEC Air Support (our immediate hosts), Hangar 1 Restaurant (for great food), Airbus Defence, ALEA, Bell Helicopter and REVUE Thommen, which sponsored elements of the program and entertainment. I must also thank the delegates for actually attending the event to make it all worthwhile and the Royal National Police for its input and the number of its officers who joined in.

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