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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Raising the Bar On Surplus Helos  

With backing from Congress and the Pentagon, ALEA is raising the safety bar for police aviation units getting surplus Army helicopters.

By R&WI Staff

National Guard units already have turned over their OH-58As and Cs for distribution as military surplus. A second wave will come next year when the Army does the same.
Photo courtesy of the National Guard Bureau/Tech. Sgt. Betty Squatrito-Martin

Airborne law enforcement leaders are keen to apply the lessons of the past as the U.S. Army releases hundreds of surplus helicopters for use by public service operators.

When such a surplus wave hit in the mid-1990s, police agencies jumped at the chance to set up new aviation units. But their flying and maintenance skills and management acumen didn’t match the new airborne capabilities. “There were no guidelines,” said Dan Schwarzbach, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association. “A sheriff’s department could pick up an aircraft, turn to a deputy and say, “You used to be a pilot. Go fly it.”

The result was a string of accidents that killed or hurt officers and others and undercut the standing of police aviation among law enforcement leaders.

No one wants that to happen again, and ALEA and others are taking steps to prevent it.

National Guard units throughout the U.S. divested all of their Bell Helicopter OH-58As and Cs in 2014. The Army is scheduled to begin divesting its Kiowa Warriors in mid-2016. The Army also is retiring its Bell TH-67 Creek trainers. A batch of two dozen or so were made surplus about two months ago.

Like the OH-58A/Cs, the TH-67s are based on the Bell 206. Unlike the Kiowas, they generally are civil-registered helicopters that bear N-numbers and therefore can be flown by general aviation or commercial operators. They could be flown on training and transport missions, such as flying a sheriff or police commander to a meeting. TH-67 maintenance also must be done to FAA standards.

The -58s are military aircraft that most likely would be acquired by state, county and local agencies and flown in public-use roles that do not require compliance with FAA rules. Neither their pilots nor their mechanics are required to hold FAA airman’s certificates, and the aircraft do not have to be maintained to FAA standards. “In the 1990s, when the surplus helicopters became available, no one had an idea how to operate a police aviation unit or a maintenance program,” said Don Roby, ALEA’s training program manager.

The Army also is retiring its OH-58Ds, but those reconnaissance aircraft will go to foreign militaries rather than domestic agencies.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army/Spc. Steven Hitchcock
“This time,” ALEA’s Schwarzbach said, “we wanted to see some accountability.”

So ALEA turned to members of Congress, including Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Florida who drafted legislative language aimed at raising the safety standards of police units and other public agencies receiving surplus aircraft.

ALEA also worked with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in approaching the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. That agency oversees the distribution of surplus military equipment. (In addition to his ALEA duties, Roby serves as chairman of the police chiefs association’s aviation committee.)

The accountability they sought was in the form of baseline standards. These include a requirement that a unit’s pilots and mechanics hold FAA certificates and that the unit adheres to the Standards for Law Enforcement Aviation Units of the Public Safety Aviation Accreditation Commission (PSAAC).

The effort has made some progress. After some prodding from Jolly, the Defense Logistics Agency took a look at the PSAAC standards.

The agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office was not aware of the standards, Vice Director Edward Case wrote the congressman in November, prompting agency officials to meet with ALEA and PSAAC representatives to discuss those standards.

The agency now “understands that they are intended to provide an industry standard in safe operating practices,” Case wrote. As such, they “could be very useful in ensuring that aircraft” released by the agency “are operated safely.”

After discussing the matter with the representatives of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Justice and State departments, the agency in November directed its personnel to require police agencies to provide training plans, including standards and accreditations, before they could receive surplus helicopters.

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