US Customs and Border Protection widens air role

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

AIA Douglas Paishon is branch safety officer. As such, he also investigates operational accidents and incidents.

Miami Air & Marine Branch has recently completed testing and evaluating the AW139 as an additional apprehension platform. Normally flying with a crew of 3, the AW139 is equipped similarly to the UH60, including FLIR and NVG capability.

Other aircraft include the Eurocopter AStar, used for surveillance and reconnaissance, the Hawker Beechcraft King Air, for marine surveillance and transport, and the Cessna 206 Stationair, used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

Both the AStar and Stationair are crewed single-pilot and are therefore popular with CBP flight crewmembers. CBP's Miami fleet flies over 3000 hrs annually on assorted missions. Rounding out the Branch's assets, 15 Midnight Express Interceptor Class boats are crewed by marine interdiction agents tasked to handle marine intercept and apprehension.

Civilian contractor L3 Communications handles all aircraft maintenance. Operations on civilian certified aircraft follow FAA Part 91 and are managed by CBP Avn Program Branch Mgr Glenn "Mo" Fahringer, with liaison from Aviation Maintenance Officer Dave Nebeker.

All line maintenance, unscheduled maintenance and inspections are handled locally, with major inspections sent to another facility in San Angelo TX. Component changes are also completed at HST from a $1-million stock of parts maintained inhouse. When required, engine overhaul requirements are met by outside vendors such as Pratt & Whitney.

L3 employs 40 people at HST, including 25 mechanics and avionics technicians-L3 mechanics can also deploy with CBP aircraft when required. Both management and avionics specialists must maintain a secret security clearance due to the nature of the work they perform and the equipment they use.

Expanded mission/vision

CBP management recognizes that it needs to adapt to the rapidly changing tactics of the smugglers it aims to stop. Among the national initiatives currently under way are a service life extension program (SLEP) to extend the utility of the P3 surveillance fleet, continued acquisition of light observation helicopters and light enforcement helicopters, procurement of newer-model UH60Ms and conversion of older, in-service A models to updated L versions, and-significantly-deployment of additional General Atomics MQ9 Predator B unmanned aerial systems (UASs) along the nation's borders.

Aircraft maintenance at Miami is contracted to L3 Communications. (L-R) CBP Aviation Branch Mgr "Mo" Fahringer and Mechanics Henry Arbelo and Jesús Farinas.

To date, 4 Predator Bs have been deployed successfully along the southwest border operating from a base in Sierra Vista AZ. Further deployment along the northern border is occurring, with eventual use planned in Florida and the Caribbean.

The UASs provide a further means for CBP to track and identify TOIs and "provide situational awareness to aircrew and ground interdiction agents." Further, the UAS can "optimize deployment of ground and air assets" to respond adequately to any threat detected.

According to Deputy Dir Bencosme, Miami Air & Marine Branch forecasts continued growth as a result of its key location. "We currently have the funding and authority to grow to over 100 pilot positions, with our marine side also doubling," he adds. Miami will likely benefit from the success of the Dash 8 MPA as it acquires more aircraft.

As a surveillance platform the Bombardier DHC8-200 exceeds expectations, according to CBP leadership. Miami Air & Marine Branch operates 2 Dash 8s from HST.

CBP has also recently integrated the newest AStar B3s into the local fleet. Rationalization of the CBP fleet will probably also lead eventually to replacement of the Citation IIs.

Strengthening partnerships

Former Miami Air & Marine Branch Director Beutlich refers to some of the initiatives he has left in place for his successor, Donnelson. "Miami is a maritime environment," he notes. "Key to our successful mission is a sound partnership between all (law enforcement) air and marine assets.

No one group can do it alone-we rely on state and local agencies." Breaking down those barriers continues to be a guiding principle for the team at the Miami Air & Marine Branch, who are proactive in seeking out expertise and talent at other law enforcement partners in south Florida.

As Donnelson readily admits, local agencies play a big part in national security and help CBP accomplish its mission of protecting the US borders. As for Deputy Director Bencosme, he carries a cellphone these days.

Brent Holman has held a variety of flight training and operations management positions at a major US air carrier for the past 24 years, in addition to flying the line. He has also been involved in law enforcement aviation as a reserve officer/helicopter pilot since 1985.



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