20 years of flying: Air 1 celebrates two decades of service in Edmonton

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Having eyes in the sky has helped police respond to more than 50,000 events.

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The Edmonton Police Service marked the 20th anniversary of its first police helicopter, Air 1, on Friday. Air crafts have been flying over the City of Edmonton since 2001 and have reached speeds of up to 275 km/h while assisting first responders.

Air 1 has given first responders a new vantage point and has helped the Edmonton Police Service in accurately accessing the resources needed for certain events. The helicopter has also helped create more co-operation and communication between first responders in the city, according to a EPS news release.

“Air 1 has taken policing to new heights in our city,” said EPS Chief Dale McFee in a news release. “The helicopter was a game changer 20 years ago, and continues to help us reduce crime, apprehend criminals and improve public safety today.”

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EPS first started looking into the possibility of purchasing a helicopter in the 1990s to reduce the dangers of criminal flights and more.

“Besides the safer handling of pursuits, a helicopter would also reduce response times, enhance officer and public safety and utilize its infrared camera technology and powerful searchlight to fight crime at night,” reads the EPS release.

In November 2000, the Spotlight on Safety campaign kicked off which raised $1 million to lease the first police helicopter. The same volunteers who helped raise the funds later raised another $1 million to keep the Air 1 in the sky.

“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,” said Acting Insp. Paul Shafer with the EPS Field Response Branch in a news release.

The helicopter took off from the City Centre Airport a couple of days later for its first shift on Aug. 8 and EPS said Air 1 showed its worth early on and attended 832 events in the first four months of operation.

Air 1 has continued to assist the EPS but also helps Edmonton Fire Rescue and the RCMP with their requests.

The success of the helicopter led to EPS purchasing and unveiling a new Air 1 in 2018 and a new Air 2 back-up craft in 2020. However, Police said plans are underway for the city’s original Air 1 helicopter to be donated to Alberta Aviation Museum to honour its place in Edmonton’s history.

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