It has been a dream of the Ministry of National Security and the Belize Defence force for several years and now it is a reality: the people of Belize will now benefit from at least one helicopter to be bought from a leading provider, Bell.
The plan is to buy either two refurbished helicopters for $4.1 million, or a completely new helicopter for $5.68 million, pending final inspection of the refurbished models.
At a press conference on Thursday in Belize City, Minister of National Security John Saldivar provided the details as to why, after several years of fruitless negotiations with traditional security partners, the country decided to buy commercial.
“Since BATSUB was downsized in 1994, and the helicopter support that they used to provide was pulled, the military in Belize has been faced with serious challenges to carry out its functions in the remote border regions. This has led the B.D.F. to make repeated submissions for the acquisition of this most needed asset over the years.
When I took office as Minister of National Security, we revived this attempt to acquire helicopters, and the Prime Minister and the National Security Council strongly supported this move. We were in discussions with the British, the U.S., the Canadians and the Taiwanese. However, none of these have borne fruit.
Recently, the opportunity presented itself where we can now acquire these helicopters. We have been in communication and dialog with the company that is selling some Bell 206 Helicopters, and our local experts, along with friendly foreign support, will be doing some due diligence to ensure the soundness of the helicopters, and that we’re receiving value for money.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow says the monies to buy will likely come out of the PetroCaribe fund. He explains why this proposed purchase fits the planned agenda of the fund for social development.
“Indeed, it will not have escaped your attention that that is precisely what the spending is so far. The copious, almost unending spending has been used programs that provide a social uplift.
I’m sure though, with respect to National Security, we can get a pass from the Venezuelans. I made the point, I think, in the press release that the Government sent out, that in terms of accounting the PetroCaribe Funds, we account not just to the Belizean people, we account to the Venezuelans. They were here six months ago, and did a complete evaluation, and pronounced themselves, my word not theirs, ‘ecstatic’ about the fact that the program is so absolutely well run, so impeccably run in this country.
So, I don’t think we’ll have any difficulty at all.”
The estimated costs of operation are about $290,000 for both helicopters, and three established pilots in the Air Wing of the BDF will be given further training in flying these helicopters.
Commander of the Belize Defence Force, Brigadier General David Jones, went into details about the planned uses of the helicopters.
“The Bell Helicopters are not as rigid as the military breed. However it will be able to serve the purposes that we need.
The smaller helicopter, which is the Jet Ranger, will be able to do more quicker missions and reconnaissance. That only will be able to carry three passengers. It’s a similar helicopter that Astrum is using now. So, the same function that we’re getting from Astrum, we will have our own.
The second helicopter, the larger one, the Long Ranger, that is a more rigid platform, because that will be able to casualty evacuation and do winching from out of the jungle, or from out of the waters. That’s more of the ‘work horse,’ the type of capabilities that we really need, the Long Ranger Helicopter.
We’ll be able to have both.”
The helicopters are being bought from a reputable registered agent for Bell in Miami, Florida.