Russian ministry and Skytech to offer international rescues

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By Andrew Healey in London

Russia’s state emergency management ministry Emercom is going into partnership with Belgian heavy lift helicopter operator Skytech, to create an international disaster response organisation. Tentatively named the European Emergency Aviation Centre, the non-profit operation – expected to start work by the end of the year – will be set up to more effectively co-ordinate air support to UN agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in the wake of natural catastrophes.

Emercom representative Vladimir Kuvshinov says the piecemeal response to last October’s earthquake in northern Pakistan showed that air support needed to be more efficiently organised. “The new centre – initially staffed by about 20 people – will be designed to respond much more quickly. We will also offer a project management service,” he says.

Skytech principal Thierry Lakhanisky says: “We met Emercom for the first time after the Sumatra tsunami in December 2004, and started talking about working together in Pakistan. It was frustrating there to see many of the relief helicopters not being used to their full potential. We knew we could do a better job, but also knew we had limited resources.”

The new centre will be based at Skytech’s headquarters at Lasne, in central Belgium. As well as its own fleet of Mil and Kamov airframes, plus a further Mi-8 MTV to be contributed by Emercom, it will have access to up to 60 Russian-built helicopters – including the 20,000kg (44,000lb) payload Mi-26 – based throughout the Federation.