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Police copters grounded; Fire aircraft back on duty

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 10:31 a.m. HST, Jul 22, 2014

The Honolulu Police Department's two helicopters remain grounded on Tuesday, but Fire Department helicopters are back in service, while city officials search for a new private maintenance contractor.

Both the police and the fire departments suspended flight operations on Monday because of problems with Rotor Wing Hawaii, the company that maintains the aircraft for both departments.

The fire department's two helicopters returned to service after the department found another company to provide interim maintenance for the aircraft.

The police department's two helicopters remained on the ground Tuesday, a police spokeswoman said. 

City spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the city hopes to have a new vendor in place by the end of the week.

Acting Fire Capt. David Jenkins said the fire department's helicopters went back in service at 4 p.m. on Monday.

Jenkins said the decision to suspend normal flight operations came because Rotor Wing Hawaii was having internal problems after its owner died.

The fire department's yellow Air 1 and Air 2 helicopters are familiar sights in island skies as they assist lost and stranded hikers, boaters, swimmers and surfers and extinguish brush fires. 

"There was no impact," Jenkins said because the fire department has an agreement with the federal government to use Coast Guard helicopters in an emergency.

There was only one water rescue on Monday morning, which was handled by North Shore lifeguards using jet skis, Jenkins added.

Broder said the city's contract with Rotor Wing Hawaii was to maintain and insure the helicopters.

After the owner died the company was facing bankruptcy and its insurance expired on Monday.

"For obvious reasons, the (city) budget department does not want the helicopters flying without insurance and a maintenance crew," Broder said.

No training, practice, nonspecific patrol, and no aerial survey work will be allowed, Broder said.

However, the fire department can and will fly if needed for emergency search and rescue and firefighting, Broder added.

The fire department's two helicopters and its crew of three pilots operate out of a hanger on Lagoon Drive.

The police department's helicopters work under the supervision of the Specialized Services Division. The aircraft provides support to operations, such as traffic monitoring, recovery of stolen vehicles, and the eradication of marijuana and other illegal drugs.

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