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Blimp No. 2 ready to go

Clint Chan Tack Friday, December 30 2005

THE SKYSHIP 600 airship has been cleared  to begin flight operations in Trinidad and Tobago with immediate effect. This was the word yesterday from Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director-general Ramesh Lutchmedial. The Skyship 600 arrived in TT on Tuesday and will be in the country for a three-month trial run, at the end of which Government may decide to purchase it for use by the Special Anti-crime Unit of TT (SAUTT) in the war against crime. Government purchased a smaller airship in July at a cost of $26 million and will pay approximately US$100,000 per month over the three months that Skyship 600 and its 20-man crew is in the country. Lutchmedial told Newsday that the Skyship 600 is “strictly outside of the jurisdiction” of the CAA because it is a military aircraft. He explained that this was a standard rule for all military aircraft operating in TT.


Lutchmedial added that the only interaction the CAA would have with Skyship 600 is for air traffic control, but even then, there would be no disclosure of the exact location of the airship because of its military specifications. He said he did not know if the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had jurisdiction over Skyship 600's operations. SAUTT director, Brigadier Peter Joseph, said Skyship 600 will be used to bolster the assets of security forces during the Carnival 2006 season. Joseph said the first airship is currently grounded due to a problem with its sensors, and the Skyship 600 crew will also take over operations of the first airship.


On Wednesday, the business community expressed scepticism that Skyship 600 would make a dent in the nation’s crime problems given the track record of the first airship and the Skywatch units. San Juan Business Association president Gail Merhair said the money being spent on Skyship 600 would have been better spent on providing more resources for law enforcement agencies to carry the fight to the criminals on the ground. SAUTT indicated that airships like the Skyship 600 have proven invaluable as security surveillance platforms in first world nations like the United States and at major events such as the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

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