Trinidad grounds crime-fighting helicopters as Cabinet decides against $200M maintenance fee

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 (CN3 Trinidad & Tobago)– Four Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters currently operated by the Air Guard and used in anti-crime operations will be grounded as the Cabinet has taken a decision not to continue a $200 million maintenance contract over the next year.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said the government just could not afford that payment at this time, given the current economic climate.

“Today we took a decision at the level of the Cabinet that we are not in a position to pay $200 million to maintain our four Augusta helicopters for one year. We just can’t afford that and if we can’t afford it the helicopters will stay on the ground,” Dr Rowley said.

He said the Cabinet had to consider whether spending $200 million to maintain the helicopters was the best allocation of money in the fight against crime.

Asked how the authorities will fill the void left by the lack of air-advantage, Dr Rowley said there are other helicopters in the country that can be used.

“We are not without helicopters. The National Helicopter Service is there and we must as why is the National Helicopter Service not playing a role? But we cannot continue paying 200 million for a foreign company to maintain the helicopters for 12 months. Clearly, at a time when we don’t have the money, we have to look at other alternatives,” he said.

In response to a reporter’s question, he said the possibility of selling the helicopters is not off table but is not under consideration at this time.

AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, announced in 2010 that the government of Trinidad and Tobago had signed a contract to purchase four AW139 medium twin turbine helicopters.

At the time, it was announced that the Trinidad and Tobago’s Air Guard (TTAG) would have established a dedicated unit to use these helicopters for search and rescue, surface surveillance, law enforcement, drug interdiction and disaster relief operations.

The contract, comprising the aircraft and support package, was valued at US$348 million.

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