US Customs and Border Protection widens air role

Miami Air & Marine Branch enforces security using diverse fleet plus interagency alliances.

Dir of Marine Operations Martin Wade leads marine interdiction efforts and manages the maritime agents and vessels in south Florida.

Later, pilots may be qualified on up to 3 aircraft. Among the vendors under contract to provide initial and recurrent training for CBP pilots are FlightSafety Intl, Costa Mesa CA-based HeliStream and the US Army.

More aircraft-specific training also occurs at the branch once general qualification is completed at the vendor-training center. Branch training with CBP instructor-pilots includes concentration on interdiction, use of night vision goggles (NVGs) and other law-enforcement-specific areas.

It culminates with a CBP check ride and qualification as second-in-command of a specific fixed or rotary-wing aircraft. For a new CBP pilot upgrade to PIC generally takes 1-2 years. As an alternative, CBP has a pilot training program for agents who possess at least a private pilot certificate.

With these minimum credentials, agents are assigned to the southwest border to build flight time with CBP instructor pilots. Once the pilots reach the 1000-hr mark they enter a training track for a specific aircraft and assignment to a branch as an AIA.

CBP agents who choose not to join the pilot track can qualify as AEAs. Then, for example, they can serve as sensor operators or manage airborne tactical teams aboard apprehension aircraft. Nadolinski oversees all training and qualification for the branch's AIAs and AEAs, which is by nature extensive.

Pilots attend annual vendor-provided recurrent training for each aircraft they are assigned to, plus an annual proficiency evaluation at local level. Beyond flight training, all agents attend firearms training every 12 weeks, quarterly branch in-service training in law enforcement issues, and specific training cycles for EMT/paramedic qualified agents and helicopter rope suspension techniques (HRST) master training for qualified agents.

Fully 1/3 of a pilot-agent's schedule consists of some type of training. AIA Douglas Paishon is the safety officer. Working as an arm of CBP headquarters' Test, Training, Safety & Standards Office, he is charged with oversight of safety programs, accident/incident investigation and human factors training at the Miami branch.

AIAs are sworn federal law enforcement officers with arrest powers and the credentials to process crime scenes. Pilot jobs are considered career positions. Some pilots, like AIA Luis Montes, have reached 20 years-the point at which pilots may retire-but choose to continue with CBP because of the job satisfaction.

Air Interdiction Agents Jesus Olivares (L) and William Starnes fly the Eurocopter AS350B3 on surveillance missions from HST.

Montes, a former Eastern Air Lines pilot, came to CBP with his fixed-wing qualifications, eventually paying for his helicopter ratings himself 4 years ago and qualifying on the Eurocopter AStar. For their efforts, CBP pilot-agents are well compensated-starting salary is in the $70,000-plus range, including law enforcement and other overrides.

A pilot-supervisor with tenure will reach $135,000 per year before retirement. On top of direct compensation, pilots receive 108-216 hrs of vacation a year depending on seniority, a "company" car for supervisors and full retirement at 20 years.

CBP's Miami hangar

Miami Air Branch has an array of surveillance, interceptor and apprehension aircraft at its disposal. There are 7 aircraft types in the Miami fleet, each equipped with law enforcement technology and modern avionics.

The Bombardier Dash 8-200 multirole patrol aircraft (MPA) is a recent addition to the CBP fleet. It is intended to supplement CBP's Lockheed P3 Orions for close-in surveillance of targets in littoral waters. Former Miami Air Branch Dir John Beutlich was the MPA acquisition team program manager while based in San Diego CA.

From there Beutlich was assigned to Washington headquarters to oversee the eventual fielding of the aircraft, and accepted the director position in Miami in part to see the Dash 8 "go operational." Beutlich has high praise for the aircraft's capability. The Dash 8, he says, "has proven itself beyond expectations and is a superior platform for smuggler detection."

CBP Citation IIs are equipped with an APG66 radar system for surveillance. (L-R) AIAs Bill Fortner and Glenn Archer with AEA John Dremann.

Two Dash 8s are stationed at HST and, in addition to their surveillance capabilities, can be converted to cargo or passenger configuration to support DHS missions. Law enforcement equipment includes L3 Wescam MX15 imaging system, BMS microwave downlink and Raytheon SeaVue maritime and overland surveillance radar.

The Avionics suite is built around a Honeywell EFIS, Universal FMS and Rockwell Collins nav/com. Miami Air & Marine Branch uses the Cessna Citation II as an interceptor to track targets of interest (TOIs).

The normal crew of 3 consists of 2 pilots and an AEA to manage the surveillance/intercept equipment. The CBP Citations were the first nonmilitary aircraft equipped with the APG66 radar designed originally for the F16.

This high-powered radar system allows CBP to track TOIs with high accuracy. Once a target is detected at long range, a Citation is dispatched to intercept and sometimes shadow the offending aircraft to ensure positive identification and help determine the intended point of landing.

CBP pilot-agents are specially trained to maintain close-in covert contact with intercepted aircraft. Enforcement helicopters like the Sikorsky UH60 and AgustaWestland AW139 form the third part of the detection-interception-apprehension triad.

The Blackhawk, long the mainstay apprehension aircraft at Miami Air Branch, is well suited for its diverse missions. It has a FLIR thermal infrared camera and Star Safire imaging system, a Spectrolab Nightsun SX16 searchlight and Motorola law enforcement communications radios installed, as well as a Ryan TCAD, FreeFlight Systems/ Trimble GPS and an Insight/BFG Strike Finder.

AEA Michael Bishop is Miami Air Branch operations officer. He works with tactical teams operating from the Sikorsky UH60 Blackhawk.

The UH60 can be reconfigured to carry up to 18 personnel when needed, assume EMS duties or serve as tactical team transport. Endurance can be pushed to 5 hrs using cabin-installed auxiliary fuel tanks.

HRST fast rope capability is currently installed and CBP is evaluating helicasting techniques that will allow the Blackhawk to deploy inflatable boats to support SRT teams and security at power plants such as the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant located just at the edge of HST.


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