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November 29, 2011

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More police copters on horizon

SHANGHAI plans to increase its police helicopter presence by nearly four-fold in the next decade to meet the demand of patrol, first aid and firefighting on high-rise buildings.

The city currently has four choppers in service, a number that lags far behind its overseas counterparts such as Hong Kong and Tokyo. Altogether, 15 helicopters will be in place by 2020, said the Aviation Force of the Shanghai police yesterday.

The first new helicopter should be a Russian-made Ka-32 fire helicopter and should be delivered to the city next year.

"There are more than 10,000 high-rise buildings in the city and we only have four helicopters. The demand is obvious," said Guo Yonghua, director of the aviation force and deputy director of Shanghai police. "Hong Kong police have nine helicopters and Tokyo police and fire department have 21. Shanghai's air-support system still lags far behind."

Air bases in the districts of Minhang, Jinshan, Pudong and Chongming should be in use by 2020 with 15 helicopters to cover police patrol, first aid and traffic dispersion for the entire city area, Guo said.

"The golden rule of first aid is that the rescue crew should reach the scene within 15 minutes after an emergency happens, but so far with only four helicopters we couldn't get everywhere in town in 15 minutes," Guo admitted.

One looming challenge is China's plan to open airspace at low altitudes by the end of 2015, which could make low-altitude administration and anti-terrorism more difficult, Guo said.

Guo also said Shanghai doesn't have a professional fire helicopter, a shortcoming that showed itself when a high-rise inferno last November killed 58 people.

"There was a massive black fume and our helicopter could not approach the building," Guo recalled.

But with a professional fire helicopter, such high-rise fires should be at least somewhat more controllable. Police said the new helicopter can carry 5 tons of water and battle a fire from the air with its water canon.

"The helicopter is also helpful in solving traffic congestion by lifting and removing broken-down vehicles from the street," Guo added.


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