With an estimated population of 1.4 billion in China, the nation’s local and provincial law enforcement agencies currently operate a fleet of 16 Leonardo helicopters. In comparison, the state of Maryland, with a population of 5.7 million people, operates a fleet of 10 helicopters from seven bases located throughout the state.
Several reports from Chinese media sources over the last year have quoted the nation’s highest public safety officials as seeking to double the nationwide fleet of helicopters by 2020 — increasing the use of rotorcraft for aerial law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS), and search and rescue operations. To learn how to support such targeted growth, over the next 2 to 3 years Chinese helicopter pilots, flight paramedics and tactical flight officers will engage in a best practices exchange program with the Maryland State Police Aviation Command (MSPAC).
Chinese government officials initially sought a learning opportunity from MSPAC and became aware of the command’s advanced operation after seeing a picture of a hoist-aided rescue by a Maryland helicopter on the cover of the February 2015 issue of R&WI, said Mark Weiss, a former American Airlines captain who is working with Beijing-based aircraft modification and aviation consulting company Reagan Aero Tech to make the exchange program happen.
“They held up the magazine, pointed to the cover and said: ‘You see this right here? This is what we want to do,’” said Weiss. According to Weiss, the exchange program is ongoing, with the group from China currently in the process of finalizing logistics to establish a U.S.-based skills training program focusing on the use of helicopters for aerial law enforcement, search and rescue, medevac and disaster response, using a similar operational structure within different Chinese provinces to what MSPAC uses in Maryland.
In September, several Chinese government representatives and pilots and aviation officials learned about MSPAC’s flight operations and how it’s funded, according to Mike DeRuggiero, CFR 135 project manager and safety management pilot for MSPAC.
“We perform aerial law enforcement, search and rescue, homeland security, and disaster assessment,” said DeRuggiero. “About 80% of our funding comes from the EMS fund in the state of Maryland, which collects revenues from driver’s licenses and car registrations annually.”
One aspect of the MSPAC program that the Chinese learned about was the 24/7 basis of the operation.
The use of one aircraft for multiple mission profiles is also a major goal for China. One of the driving forces behind the expanded use of civilian multi-mission helicopters in that nation was a 2009 disaster that exposed its weaknesses in aerial helicopter support for things like emergency medical transportation and search and rescue hoist-lead missions.
The group in China wanted to learn not only about aerial law enforcenment, said DeRuggiero, but also emergency medical transportation. “Because of their massive population, transportation by land from the scene of an accident, for example, is difficult due to congestion. The possibility of doing all of those operations with one helicopter intrigued them,” he said.
MSPAC’s multi-mission profile is guided by what DeRuggiero calls the “golden-hour rule,” which was first developed by Dr. R Adams Cowley, founder of the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Cowley researched the U.S. military’s success in using helicopters to save the lives of soldiers who suffered life-threatening wounds in battle. He found that if definitive care could be administered to a patient within the first 60 minutes of a traumatic life-threatening event, chances of survival increase dramatically.
Corporal Joshua Chason, a Maryland state trooper and flight paramedic, works with DeRuggiero operating the Trooper 1 helicopter out of MSPAC’s Middle River base. Chase said the MSPAC’s structure can serve for the type of multi-mission operation China is looking to build, as the flight paramedics in the back of the helicopter are responsible not only for administering in-flight care to patients in transport, but also to provide crew resource management.
“Unlike the pilots, the crew in the back has to be a sworn state trooper and are trained in hoist operations as well,” said Chasin. “One of the newest technologies we’re also using is video downlinking, making our video feed from the aircraft available to ground crews so they can see what we see from an aerial perspective.”
Now that China has decided to expand its fleet of multi-mission helicopters, it will need the infrastructure, such as hangar space, and ground-based command and control centers, to support the aerial side of its operation.
Airborne Law Enforcement Assn. (ALEA) CEO Daniel B. Schwarzbach said one aspect that China will have to consider going forward along with the issues of finding funding for the expansion of its rotorcraft operations is regulation.
“Funding has been the No. 1 issue for aerial law enforcement since I first started with the city of Houston as a police pilot more than 30 years ago,” he said. “Helicopters are extremely expensive to operate, and MSPAC is an exception in the U.S., as they have a funding source built in to their state car registration revenue, which is a brilliant idea.” But Schwarzbach also said it will be a challenge to get that concept to work in other parts of the country. It can be difficult to get state legislatures to transition to one type of helicopter, considering the challenges in estimating the cost of operating, maintaining and repairing helicopters.
The next steps for China, while working with Reagan Aero Tech, will focus on finalizing a contract with a U.S.-based aviation aerial law enforcement, search and rescue, and air ambulance training company. China will also continue to send Chinese police pilots, mechanics, tactical flight officers and administrators to Maryland so that the country can develop its own internal process for training new pilots and flight paramedics and ground support personnel going forward.
“Even with the language barrier, it was clear to me that the members of the delegation were starving for information, and ironically, the information they were seeking for their problems were related to the very same problems we have faced in the past,” said Maj. Anthony Lowman, a commander for MSPAC. “While our operational posture will differ, the logistical issues faced by such an operation are consistent across the world.”