Police Helicopter

Police Scotland Terminates CAS Memorandums of Understanding

Up until the formation of Police Scotland (PS) in April 2013, Civil Air Support (and formerly the UK Civil Air Patrol) had legal Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with 4 out of the 8 extant legacy forces: Fife Constabulary, Grampian Police, Northern Constabulary and Tayside Police. These four forces covered around 62% of the total area of Scotland. The MoUs detailed how the police forces might engage with Civil Air Support (CAS). They indemnified the forces involved of any responsibility for CAS’s airborne activity but also recognised the important role that CAS volunteer crews played in an airborne search and support role, especially in remote and rural areas. MoUs also covered other important issues such as communication, activation procedures, capability and insurance to ensure an optimal and effective working relationship. These MoUs were all terminated by Police Scotland within a few weeks of its formation.

A number of reasons have subsequently been provided by PS relating to why the MoUs were terminated, both through written correspondence and at meetings held with senior Police Scotland staff. The main reasons, along with the CAS response to them are as follows:

  1. “Police Scotland no longer needs an MoU with Civil Air Support (known as UKCivil Air Patrol at the time) as the combined force helicopter is now available to all legacy force areas at no cost”.

Prior to the formation of Police Scotland, the Strathclyde Police helicopter spent most of its time in the Strathclyde police area and was only loaned to other forces at their request and expense. PS identified that the single combined force helicopter was now available to all legacy force areas without the significant financial costs cross-charged previously. PS believed that it was these costs that had been the main barrier to helicopter use by legacy forces outside Strathclyde.

A single police helicopter with an endurance of 90 minutes and cruise speed of circa 130kts could never provide true national cover for all roles, even if the financial barrier to wider use was removed. This is primarily because transit times and the need for multiple re-fuelling and crew stops add unrealistic delay and logistical complexity. For example, a one hour search in the Inverness area would require a 45 min transit from Glasgow, 1 hour search flight, 45 min return flight and at least 2 refuelling stops before the helicopter regained operational status for other roles. This would require circa 4 hours in total during which the aircraft would otherwise be unavailable. This, in order to undertake a 1 hour search at a total estimated cost in excess of £12,000.

There is no cross-over between PS and CAS aircraft roles. The highly specialised PS helicopter and crew is best used for tasks not coverable by CAS whilst CAS is best suited to roles for which the PS helicopter could not reasonably be employed on cost considerations alone. There is a completely separate role group for each air asset. CAS poses no competition whatsoever to PS air support and CAS activity is in any case and by the very nature of its volunteer basis, restricted to very occasional use.

2. “The law forbids Police Scotland from working with CAS”.

In 2015 CAS (as the UKCAP) undertook consultations with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and with cross-party political support appealed for a change in the law. A change was promulgated in the 2016 Air Navigation Order (ANO) – which regulates all civil flying operations in the UK – and this change now allows CAS to operate in conjunction with police forces based on a ‘permission’ given by the CAA. Gaining a CAA ‘permission’ is perfectly feasible but involves PS cooperation, currently refused.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.