By Carlena Knight
The public will be better protected in the event of an emergency after the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) commissioned a new air wing to assist with everything from search and rescue to medical evacuations.
On Tuesday, the Force received a new nine-seater plane, Alpha 1, with plans ahead to acquire additional aircraft too, further expanding its capabilities in providing security and support services to the nation.
This is according to the air wing’s Commander Major Alando Michael who was speaking on the Observer AM show yesterday.
“We are looking at acquiring other aircraft, but … cost is a factor. So, we will do so as cost effectively as possible,” Major Michael said.
How many aircraft, and a timeline for when these might come on-stream, has not yet been finalised.
Alpha 1 was originally set to operate between Antigua and Barbuda to improve transportation between the islands when it was announced in 2016, but last year the government said the Defence Force would instead take it over.
Already, the plane has performed a Covid-19 patient extraction from Barbuda, plus fisheries patrols and patrols around Redonda.
Major Michael did however clarify that although the aircraft will operate primarily for the ABDF, it will still help with the “transport of civilians to and from the sister island”.
Additional staffing is another area, according to Major Michael, that the body will be looking to address.
Presently, they have seven staff overall, inclusive of three pilots – two active, and one on reserve -but it is his hope to ramp that up to about 20 persons.
“There are plans for additional staffing because we want to be 24/7 operational, and the crews must have rest periods, so we would need to enforce or reinforce the crew mobility and … the plan is to get more airplanes,” he explained.
The craft is said to enable the Force to offer aerial support across the country in disaster or emergency responses, search and rescue support, medical evacuations, and maritime space surveillance, among others.
“When these things happen in our waters it puts a bad light on the nation, and so we are looking to assist in stamping out that by making sure that our maritime space will get better surveillance from the sky and we can then vector the Coast Guard vessels on to particular points.
“That in it itself saves fuel, saves time because we are quick on the scene, and we can tell the boats exactly where to go,” he explained.
Major Michael revealed that there are intentions for the air wing to partner with the Jamaican and American military as well, on how they can improve and ensure that they are abiding within the relevant parameters.
He says that training sessions will also get underway with these countries.
The official commissioning ceremony took place on Tuesday and culminated in a flyby by the aircraft.
The new air wing’s motto is “sparing nothing, giving all”.