The Belize Defence Force is working with its international partners to replace its fleet of aircraft. Two planes that are a part of the current fleet are nearing their time to be decommissioned and are no longer operational. The force is expecting to receive the donation of a new aircraft from the US Government next year. However, the BDF’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Jermaine Burns, explained that there is a need for more planes to bolster their efforts in tackling transnational crime.
Lt. Col. Jermaine Burns, Chief of Staff, BDF: “We are looking at trying to obtain new aircrafts. You’d imagine that the aircrafts that we have have all been nearing that point of where we need to right them off. The airwing started back in 1993 with three Islanders and a Cessna, a Cessna that was donated by Mexico and three Islanders from our British counterparts. One Islander remains, and it has about five years on it that remains. We’re sourcing two engines for that, and two propellers have recently been bought for that machine. When those engines have run their time, which we calculate to be about five years, that aircraft would be decommissioned. We have decommissioned a number of other aircrafts over the years, starting from around 2015. I was a commander, then, of the airwing, and I remember decommissioning two. We have recently put in for the decommissioning of the Piper, and for the helicopters, we are test flying the last UH1H that we have, and that is still good to go. It had a blade issue the other day, but you’ll see it flying pretty soon within a week or so. It’s test flying right now. But, we are looking for new aircraft. We have a donation coming in next year from the Americans in the form of a Cessna 208, a caravan, and that is similar to the ones that the local airlines fly. That will be fitted with a particular radar that’s going to assist us in tracking those illicit flights in the nighttime.”
Burns explained that the process to procure airplanes and helicopters is extremely difficult and very pricey.
Lt. Col. Jermaine Burns, Chief of Staff, BDF: “You’d imagine for something as simple as a vehicle, it takes a process, and it takes a lot of negotiations. It takes time for partners to help us with these things, and just as what Minister Mahler alluded to, you would be hearing updates like, “It’s coming next week. It’s coming next week or so.” When it comes to aviation equipment, they’re tremendously expensive. If it isn’t a donation, we would have to look at a program that de-reserves a lot of taxpayer’s dollars to try and purchase something like that, and a one-off purchase of a really good helicopter, if you’re buying it out of the Bell shop, is looking at something around 12 million Belize dollars, six millions US. The basic helicopter that the BDF would require. The initial purchase is not the issue. It is the maintenance. It would cost you three times that amount depending on what coverage you want to have over the country. So, helicopter flying is pretty expensive, but when it comes to fixed-wing, it’s a little bit more affordable for our community in the economic state that we’re in. So, that’s the way we’re trying to go. Some of our major concerns have to do with these illicit flights coming into our country. So, that’s where we want to bridge the gap with our capability, and I’m happy to say that the Americans are helping us with that next year. So, we have a team that is going out pretty soon to start training in the US on that platform before it comes into Belize.”