Estonia's Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna has spoken up against the idea that the money to finance national defense-related flights by helicopters of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) should be taken from the defense budget.
The minister was commenting on a disclosure that about 15 percent of the services provided by PPA helicopters are related to the needs of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), particularly the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.
"Ensuring the security of Estonia requires the efforts of many state institutions," Tsahkna told BNS on Friday. "This is apparent in individual fields of policy as well, such as supporting the presence of allies and conducting of the NATO air policing mission. Estonia's defense requires functioning roads, railways and ports, effective law enforcement and counter-intelligence as well as many more things that lie beyond the area of government of the Ministry of Defence.
"We fully support the aspirations of the Ministry of the Interior in developing a sustainable search-and-rescue capability, but the fact that it is necessary for the performance of the air policing mission does not mean that it is automatically a subject that belogns to the defense budget," he continued, "Just like other functions important to national defense, from the maintenance of railways to increasing cohesion in society, do not belong in the defense budget."
Director General of the PPA Elmar Vaher has said that a quarter of the flight hours of the helicopters of the PPA's aviation unit are logged performing medical flights and another estimated 15 percent are related to the EDF, including ensuring search-and-rescue readiness for the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.
Taking aircraft maintenance cycles into account, it is not possible to satisfy all the needs of the state with the present fleet of three AW139 helicopters, which allows for keeping only one helicopter on stand-by around the clock. For instance, there may be a situation in which the police need to use a helicopter to conduct a terrain search for a missing person and the helicopter is needed at the same time for a medical flight or for ensuring the readiness for a NATO fighter jet flight, the police chief explained.
In order to have two helicopters ready around the clock, a fourth helicopter would need to be procured and two additional crew hired. According to PPA calculations, the cost of purchasing a fourth helicopter would be €24 million if an additional AW139 is acquired and €32 million should the country decide in favor of purchasing a larger craft.
Editor: Aili Vahtla