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Pilot sitting in the cockpit of an airplane.

RCMP Air Services provides vital support

The RCMP Air Services provides a crucial connection for officers across the country. Credit: Serge Gouin, RCMP


When policing in remote communities, getting there can be a challenge.

The RCMP Air Services aims to make it easier by flying personnel and supplies to and from isolated detachments and providing operational support to front-line officers.

"Air services is a lifeline for many of these communities," says Ashleigh Jamieson, air services co-ordinator for the RCMP in Manitoba.

The planes are generally arranged to take up to six passengers, operational gear and essential supplies to places otherwise accessible only by long drives, winter ice roads or occasional commercial flights.

Piloting one of the RCMP's Pilatus PC-12s, the plane the RCMP uses most often, requires plenty of experience when flying to remote detachments and making stops along the way.

"The flight from Winnipeg to Churchill is nearly 1,000 kilometres and only 25 minutes less than the flight from Winnipeg to Calgary," says S/Cst. Byron Taylor, who's been an RCMP pilot for 14 years and flying for much longer.

Pilots are often landing on gravel or ice-covered runways at airports without any navigational aids, air traffic control services or official weather reporting. They rely on their skills, experience and an intimate knowledge of the area to make decisions and maintain the highest degree of safety.

"Airport resources like snow clearing and runway-condition reports are limited in the North, especially on weekends, but policing never stops," says Taylor.

Some Manitoba detachments, such as Shamattawa, Oxford House and Pukatawagan, have adopted a fly-in detachment model in which officers are flown between the detachment and Winnipeg on a scheduled rotation.

Flights must be carefully planned to consider operational needs, weight restrictions, fuel reserves and pilot duty time. Fuel isn't available at every stop and Transport Canada regulates how long a pilot can be in the air and on duty.

Supporting investigations

If there's an incident in a remote area, air services supports the investigation by transporting specialized officers and equipment, conducting aerial photography and transporting evidence.

RCMP pilots are special constables and can take custody of evidence for transportation to an officer in a major centre. This maintains the integrity of the investigation throughout the process.

It also helps remote detachments keep officers in the community rather than sending one of its few members away for days.

"It's dynamic work," says Taylor. "We can be flying forensic units to major crimes, responding to calls in remote communities, or looking for missing hunters. It's all based on operational priorities, so you never know."

When police are needed in isolated areas like Lac Brochet or Tadoule Lake, 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, officers fly from Thompson to respond.

While flying officers to detachments and supporting police work makes up the bulk of flights, air services is also used for search and rescue when possible.

"We may bring in officers to assist and if the conditions are suitable, we can use our specialized equipment to try to locate missing people," says Jamieson.

Supporting people

It's difficult to get supplies and personal items to remote areas after an officer takes a posting. Friends and family can bring goods to the RCMP hanger and if there's room on the next flight, it'll be sent to the detachment.

And when officers in hard-to-reach areas need to go for training, the RCMP plane helps get them from the distant towns to the training facility.

"I wouldn't want to be doing these isolated spots if it wasn't for air services. They make the isolation not as isolated," says Cpl. Michael Dyck, who leads the RCMP detachment in Churchill, a fly-in community west of Hudson's Bay.

When the Churchill detachment needed exterior lights replaced, Dyck ordered the products from Winnipeg and an RCMP pilot picked them up to bring on the next flight.

"Without air services, our job would be a lot harder, that's for sure," Dyck says.

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