For over two decades, the Air 1 helicopter has consistently proven itself to be an integral part of EPS operations and an invaluable investment in community safety.
Since 2001, Air 1 has responded to more than 50,000 events, and at speeds of up to 275 km/h the helicopter is often the first police vehicle on scene and usually within 60 seconds of being dispatched.
The helicopter’s unique vantage point has aided police in accurately assessing the resources needed for particular events, and has helped to create more cooperation and coordination between first responders in greater Edmonton.
“Air 1 has taken policing to new heights in our city,” says EPS Chief Dale McFee. “The helicopter was a game changer 20 years ago, and continues to help us reduce crime, apprehend criminals and improve public safety today. Investments such as these align with the EPS vision of innovation and working smarter, allowing us to deal with the complexities of crime in the safest manner possible.”
EPS began looking at the possibility of purchasing a helicopter back in the 1990s to help reduce the dangers of criminal flights. Besides the safer handling of pursuits, a helicopter could reduce response times, enhance officer and public safety, and utilize its infrared camera technology and powerful searchlight to fight crime at night.
A dedicated team of EPS employees, who would later become the first flight crew, conducted extensive research and recommended purchasing a police helicopter to the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC) in 1995 and again in 1998. Although these proposals were not approved, community interest remained strong.
In November 2000, the Spotlight on Safety campaign kicked off, and through the efforts of Bob Layton, Harry Mann, Ed Bean, Harry Hole and numerous other supporters and volunteers, $1 million was raised to lease the first police helicopter and prove its worth. These same volunteers would later go on to raise an additional $1 million to pay for the helicopter and keep it in the sky.
Encouraged by this outpouring of community support, and the strength of the latest EPS proposal, the EPC approved the acquisition of a police helicopter on Feb. 28, 2001 for a one-year period to evaluate its performance.
With much anticipation, the new Airbus EC-120 helicopter designated as Air 1 made its public debut at Heritage Days on Aug. 5, 2001, and approximately 3,600 visitors stood in line to have their picture taken with the helicopter.
A few days later, Air 1 took off from the City Centre Airport for its first patrol flight on Aug. 8, 2001.
The Air 1 helicopter program takes flight
All eyes were on Air 1, which was one of only two municipal police helicopters operating in Canada at the time, but the helicopter quickly proved its value in preventing property damage and saving lives.
Within the first four months of operation, Air 1 attended 832 events – providing aerial assistance for high-risk traffic stops, intercepting stolen vehicles and impaired drivers, responding to break and enters, and searching for missing persons. The helicopter also began assisting the RCMP and Edmonton Fire Rescue with their emergency events.
On Sept. 9, 2009, EPS added another Airbus EC-120 helicopter designated Air 2, which would allow one helicopter to be serviced while the other continued to fly.
When the City Centre Airport closed on Nov. 30, 2013, EPS Flight Operations relocated to Villeneuve Airport, and began looking for another helicopter that could fly faster, farther and remain on scene longer without having to refuel so often.
EPS chose to purchase a next generation Airbus H-125 helicopter that met those needs, and the new Air 1 helicopter was unveiled to the public on Feb. 23, 2018, followed by the addition of a new Air 2 back-up helicopter on Nov. 23, 2020.
Flying into history
With the two new helicopters in service, the original Air 1 helicopter was decommissioned, and the original Air 2 will soon be sold.
However, this is not the end for our city’s first police helicopter, as plans are now underway to donate the aircraft to the Alberta Aviation Museum to honour its place in Edmonton’s history.
“Time flies, it’s hard to believe that we’re celebrating 20 years of the Air 1 helicopter program,” says Acting Insp. Paul Shafer with the EPS Field Response Branch. “We wouldn’t have been able to get the helicopter off the ground if not for the tremendous support of the community and incredible dedication of EPS employees. Air 1 has gone above and beyond serving our city, and we can all take pride in its success.”
For more information on the EPS Flight Operations Unit and the Air 1 helicopter, please visit www.edmontonpolice.ca/flightops