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MD Causes More Problems for Helo Industry

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US spare parts crisis could ground Yorkshire's police helicopter fleet

Paul Whitehouse


POLICE helicopters used by forces across this region are at risk of being grounded because the American manufacturer is in trouble and struggling to supply spares.


Helicopters are regarded as one of the most valuable tools police now have and the situation could create a huge embarrassment for senior officers who have spent about £3.7m on each aircraft.


About half of England's police forces operate the Explorer aircraft, built by Arizona-based MD Helicopters, including South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Humberside and Greater Manchester.


South Yorkshire's Explor-er, unveiled in December 2003, has regularly been out of action, including one recent two-week stretch, because of a lack of spares.


Humberside and West Yorkshire police denied the situation had affected them. MD Helicopters builds the Explorer specifically for police use. However the company has been unable to source spares from its suppliers, according to Bryn Elliott, editor of Police Aviation News. The situation is so serious Dutch police have scrapped an order for eight aircraft. South Yorkshire Police accept their aircraft has been in service for only 75 per cent of the time over the last three months, compared to an expected availability of 95 per cent.


Mr Elliott said that nationally, forces were experiencing availability between 50 and 80 per cent, way below the record for the other obvious choice of police aircraft – the Eurocopter – which has an availability record of about 98 per cent.


In South Yorkshire senior officers are trying to minimise problems by buying a stockpile of parts. But although they have set aside a six-figure sum to buy them, they are struggling to spend the money because items are impossible to source.


South Yorkshire Police Insp Clive Marsden said: "I am trying to negate events outside my control. The public pay for this and expect to see it in the air. It is a very, very important part of the whole policing picture.

"I cannot think of a single policing activity which would not be enhanced by the use of air support. MD is going through a period of change and that appears to be affecting parts supply."


British supplier of MD police helicopters is Police Aviation Services in Glou-cestershire and a spokes-man admitted MD had experienced parts supply problems. They had now turned their primary attention from producing aircraft to supplying parts for the existing fleet and he insisted that the situation was improving.


"The South Yorkshire aircraft has been down for longer than any of us would like," he admitted.

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