4 January 2014 (UPDATED: 6 January 2014)
WA’s two police helicopters (VH-WAH / POLAIR 61 MBB-Kawasaki BK-117 and VH-WPX / POLAIR 62 Eurocopter AS365N3+ Dauphin 2), which were grounded since 3 January 2015, have now returned to flying.
The Police Air Wing’s Chief Pilot and Deputy Chief Pilot suddenly resigned, and this also left only two of the five pilot positions filled. As the Police Air Wing Air Operator’s Certificate was held by the Chief Pilot, his resignation potentially meant that under air safety laws, the helicopters could not fly. The helicopters were therefore voluntarily grounded to clarify the situation with CASA, but could do urgent missions if required.
WA Police held urgent discussions with CASA on finding a way to get the helicopters back into operation, and CASA granted approval for the helicopters to fly under a private licence which covers them for surveillance operations.
If the grounding had been for an extended period, fixed wing aircraft, such as the GippsAero GA-8 Airvan (VH-WPF) would have been needed to provide air patrols and support for ground-based Police. The Airvan is not a well-equipped as the helicopters and does not have a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret for night searches. However, WA Police indicated that they already do this whenever the helicopters are unavailable and if necessary, they would hire another helicopter.
Rescue flights are not a primary function of the Police helicopters, so rescue missions could be undertaken by other helicopters, such as the Department of Fire and Emergency Services/RAC Rescue Bell 412EP VH-EWA.
The WA Police admitted that they have had difficulty trying to find suitably-qualified helicopter pilots, with one position vacant for some time, but deny that there are any staff problems within the Air Wing.