Storm over 'inferior' Sh900m police chopper

A sample of AW139 helicopter. the choice of such a chopper for use in
security surveillance has raised a lot of quest1ions. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD

A storm is brewing in the National Police Service (NPS) over the purchase of a Sh900 million helicopter that aviation and security experts say is unsuitable for police operations.

Questions have also been raised over the procurement for the used 15-seater twin-engine AW139 helicopter with some members of the NPS tender and procurement committee questioning why the vendors want the cost of servicing and training of the pilots to be borne by the government.

Information available from the manufacturer of the helicopter, AgustaWestland of Italy, quotes the price per unit of a new AW139 helicopter in 2013 at $12 million (Sh1.2 billion), while users of this type of aircraft say it currently costs $15 million (Sh1.5 billion at the prevailing exchange rate).

While the police urgently need new aircraft for rapid response to emergencies, and to respond to Al-Shabaab terror attacks, the choice of the AW139 helicopter has raised eyebrows among aviation and security experts.

Wrong machine

Aviation experts who specialise in helicopters agreed with members of the NPS tender committee opposed to the purchase.

They point out that the AW139 helicopter is the wrong machine for security surveillance in high altitude regions like Nairobi, Rift Valley, Northern and Western Kenya.

The chopper is being acquired after a tender advertised by the NPS for the purchase of three helicopters earlier in the year was cancelled.

The police had advertised in local dailies for international bids for the supply and delivery of a troop carrier helicopter and four utility helicopters.

The second tender was for the overhaul of grounded MI-17 helicopters. Generally, security procurement is treated as classified information.

Another reason why the purchase of the AW139 helicopter has caused unease in the police service is its perceived non-compliance with “utility” or multi-role specification.

Experts say the helicopter is only ideal for low-altitude operations. According to information from the manufacturer, the chopper is limited to an altitude of 8,130 feet (2,478 metres) above sea level.

An aviation expert who spoke to The Standard on Saturday described the purchase as ill-advised and the wrong tool for the job.

“AW139 are specially manufactured for offshore operations. They cannot operate inland because they are sensitive to dust and the sheer mass of the machine makes it difficult in high altitudes,” says the expert from a leading regional aviation firm who preferred anonymity.

Contacted yesterday, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett denied knowledge of the plan to purchase the AW139 helicopter.

“That’s a new one. Not aware about that at all. Hence cannot respond. Check your facts properly,” he said in a text response.

The Standard on Saturday had sought to know from the IG why they police had single-sourced the helicopter two months after cancelling an international tender for utility helicopters and spare parts for the four Russian-made MI-17 helicopters that are grounded.

Raised storm

The IG would also not disclose if the police would buy all the three AW139s that sources said were on offer by the vendor and who would bear the cost of training the pilots and engineers, since the choppers are the first of their kind to be used by the police.

Sources said the matter has raised a storm within the NPS procurement committee, with some members calling for investigation of the process as well as the company disposing of the aircraft to the Kenya Police as the country grapples with insecurity and terrorism.

Before the international tender was cancelled, NPS had invited eight companies that had responded to make presentations.

They include among others Airbus Defence and Space, Schiebel Aircraft GMBH, and Frequentis Defence Incorporation.

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police choppers