Tuesday, April 8, 2008

JAGDEO blasts helicopter critics

Jagdeo backs copter
April 7, 2008
-slams Gouveia

Pres. Bharrat Jagdeo (left) Capt. Gerry Gouveia (right)
President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday flayed Captain Gerry Gouveia’s criticisms of the two Bell 206 helicopters which were purchased to battle rising crime, saying that the former army pilot’s comments were silly and unfortunate.

Gouveia had told this newspaper in an interview on Friday that the choppers were not suited to fighting crime, noting that taxpayers’ money would have been better spent repairing the army’s Bell 412 helicopter which has been out of operation for over two years now.

Just back from the special crime and security summit in Trinidad and Tobago, Jagdeo told the Government Infor-mation Agency (GINA) last evening that before making such comments, one should understand the reason for purchasing the helicopters - this he said was mainly for surveillance. “I think the comment that the helicopters are not for crime fighting because they have limited capacity to carry people is a silly one. You have to understand crime fighting in different ways; it is not just transporting troops. It is also about surveillance. It is about ensuring you have visibility, you can track people,” GINA quoted the head of state as saying. He said the helicopters will have sophisticated equipment that could light up an entire area or can track someone through heat technology if he/she is running through bushes or elsewhere.

Jagdeo asserted, according to GINA, that the helicopters were bought for crime fighting and this is what they will play a part in. “The objective was more surveillance-type equipment which could move limited numbers of people but it’s the surveillance that you need, so you can keep in touch with ground forces from the helicopters and track people. You see these all the time on TV. If you watch these reality shows, you would see that helicopters track people and then they relay that to the ground forces and they move.”

Managing Director of Roraima Airways, Gouveia told Stabroek News in an interview on Friday that there was no question as to whether the country needed helicopters but he said Guyana needs choppers that could transport 8-10 men from one location to another and also do emergency medical evacuations and other tasks. “But the helicopters we are buying cannot do all of these and I wonder whether it was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” Gouveia commented. He argued that the Bell 206 chopper which flew in on Wednesday was a 1980-manufactured machine with limited capacity to transport troops and unsuited to fighting crime. “This is a tourism helicopter”, Gouveia said of the chopper, sitting at Camp Ayanganna presently. “By no means it is suited to support our security forces, it could only carry two passengers, cannot carry logistic support and in terms of rapid response and speed this is a joke and a comedy,” Gouveia declared. Information about the chopper obtained by this newspaper showed that it has a total flight time of over 10,000 hours and has passed through at least three owners. Gouveia said that no aviation professional he spoke with here said that they were consulted by the government or the army on the purchasing of the machines. But Cabinet Secre-tary, Roger Luncheon had told this newspaper that the administration sought advice from two prominent aviators; one living in Guyana and another residing in the US.

On Saturday GINA reported that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) has already conducted a thorough inspection and rapid test flights of the new helicopter. A second chopper is expected shortly from Texas, in the United States. The machines were promised by Jagdeo to fight crime following the recent upsurge in violence here. The chopper according to the GINA release is a single-engine five-seater aircraft which lifts to an altitude of 20,000 feet, and is reputed to be the most reliable light reconnaissance aircraft of its kind in the world and more economical to operate. Among its many other assets, GINA says, is its capacity to be airborne in less than five minutes and its ability to fly for hours, depending on wind direction and other circumstances.

The agency quoted Army Staff Officer, Special Duties, Lieutenant Colonel Claude Fraser, who was among officials conducting inspections on the aircraft on Friday at Camp Ayanganna, as saying that it is important to note that the helicopter will aid in inspection activities especially in the area of civil defence. “With this aircraft, we will be able to fly over the flooded areas and get information as quickly as possible to the relevant authorities who will be able to deal with these situations”, Fraser said, adding that even though its main purpose is to aid in the conduct of reconnaissance missions, its five-seat capacity will also allow it to transport a few persons in an emergency.