JEDDAH — Saudi authorities have deployed a bigger fleet of helicopters in Haj security operations this year and the operations have begun relatively early.
The participating helicopters have already been shifted from their bases to various stations in Makkah region and in the Security Aviation Unit in Madinah.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Muhammad Eid Al-Harbi, Commander of Security Aviation, said this year’s fleet is large compared to previous years. The force comprises pilots, technicians, engineers, administrators and paramedics, totally reaching 360. They include officers, noncommissioned officers and privates in different specializations.
Al-Harbi attributed the bigger participation this year to the expected increase in the number of pilgrims. The total number of helicopters has reached 19 of different kinds, most prominent of which are S-92 and Schweizer S-434 helicopters that carry out reconnaissance operations.
“Our helicopters are fitted with modern and sophisticated equipment, including communication devices and infrared cameras, to carry out operations of all kinds depending on the task assigned,” Al-Harbi said.
He said helicopters participating in Haj security are mainly used in firefighting in crowded areas, such as tents and warehouses, in addition to rescue operations and airlifting of casualties to hospitals.
The helicopters are also used in the evacuation of victims or people trapped in dangerous areas to safer areas. The helicopters take part in security drills in Makkah and the holy sites.
The choppers monitor the expressways leading to Makkah and Madinah. They also support other security bodies participating in the Haj operations.
Al-Harbi said the security aviation unit completed its preparations for the Haj this year quite early when the helicopters arrived. They flew several surveillance sorties to get acquainted with the topography and landmarks of the region, including new helipads and buildings. The aviation staff ensure that the helipads available in hospitals are ready for use.
He confirmed that the security aviation plans are ready so as to monitor the pilgrims while they are carrying out their rites with ease. He said this year a big number of pilots have completed special training on security helicopters, before joining their colleagues in serving the pilgrims.
Al-Harbi asked his men to bear in mind the great responsibility they are entrusted with and urged them to exert their utmost efforts to serve the guests of God.