The seafaring EC135

The French Customs have added maritime surveillance to the range of missions performed by the EC135.


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“The effective replacement, last autumn, of the six AS355 F2 Ecureuils by five EC135 T2i helicopters has significantly increased our operational capabilities, and our crews are very satisfied,” comments Philippe Lain, the air operations manager for the French Customs. These helicopters are primarily used for maritime surveillance, where they lead the fight against fraud and trafficking. The EC135s survey the coast and coastal waters of the Channel, the North Sea and the Mediterranean to a distance of 24 nautical miles, and work in tandem with the customs planes. The role of the crews is to observe and analyse vessels according to criteria such as route, appearance and behaviour. Then, if necessary, they decide to investigate. They can check out a boat from a distance, directly from the helicopter, or they can winch down a team of customs officers. They can also call out a customs launch or have the vessel inspected at the port of destination. Furthermore, the French Customs can perform every public service mission at sea, as befits their role as a government agency. These maritime missions include combating pollution, patrolling fisheries, performing search and rescues, preventing dangers to shipping, and even monitoring marine mammals. “The EC135 is a twin-engine aircraft in the truest sense of the term. Its speed allows us to cover wider areas in complete safety and with greater resources in terms of systems and equipment,” Philippe Lain explains. Philippe especially values the cabin volume, the safety of hoisting operations in the event of engine failure, and the bona fide night observation capability. In terms of equipment, Philippe also rates the Iridium satellite telephone, which permanently determines the aircraft’s position, the gyro-stabilised FLIR, and the possibility of installing the hoist on either side of the helicopter. “These new capabilities have allowed us to extend the scope of our operations fairly extensively,” Philippe Lain continues. For example, the conditions for lowering an emergency response team at night or in bad weather are now much broader, as are the operating conditions for the hoist operator. Because of the electric hoist, the hoist operator now has to stand outside the aircraft, on the skid, so that one hand is kept free to let out the cable. Philippe Lain also emphasises the ease with which pilots and operators have switched from one aircraft to the other. In addition to the user friendliness and ergonomics of the EC135, Philippe attributes this smooth transition to the technical service provided by Eurocopter and the specially customised training that the French Customs were able to devise with Eurocopter.



_AUTHOR: RÉGIS NOYÉ


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