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Airbus Helicopters, January 22, 2022 - Sevilla, Spain - Airbus has delivered the last Dauphin helicopter, an AS365 N3, to the Spanish Customs Service. This helicopter will reinforce the Customs Surveillance Service’s capacity to combat drug trafficking in the Strait of Gibraltar, the Alboran Sea, and in Galicia.
The helicopter was customised at Airbus Helicopters’ facilities in Albacete and comes equipped with mission equipment such as an electro-optical system, a radar, a tactical communications system and a search light, since most of the patrol flights take place at night.
Thanks to its long-range fuel tanks, the Spanish Customs’ Dauphin can fly up to 3 hours and 30 minutes and reach a fast cruise speed of 145 kts – an essential asset when it comes to reaching the vessels of drug traffickers.
The Spanish Customs’ three Dauphins perform maritime patrol missions to track, chase, and intercept high-speed smuggling boats typically transporting contraband. In 2021, the Dauphin helicopters contributed to the seizure of more than 200 tons of illegal drugs in Spain, working with the Custom Service's 45 vessels and land units.
“The Spanish Customs has been a longstanding partner since 1985 and we are very proud of how, since the first Dauphin was handed over to them in 2002, these helicopters have carried out essential tasks for the population such as the fight against drug trafficking in a hostile environment,” said Fernando Lombo, Managing Director of Airbus Helicopters in Spain. "Thank you to the women and men at Customs who are taking full advantage of the Dauphin's marine patrol capabilities, flying the outstanding figure of almost 1,000 hours a year with each Dauphin to protect our community".
This is the last helicopter of the legendary Dauphin family that has been manufactured in Marignane by Airbus Helicopters. Over the past forty years, more than 1,100 helicopters have been produced, flying seven million hours in 70 different countries. Among its numerous milestones, the achievement of the world speed record in November 1991 stands out, when the Dauphin reached 201 kts on a 3 km route.
The fight against drug trafficking is also fought from the air. Intercepting drugs, arresting drug traffickers and boarding speedboats: it sounds like the script for a Netflix series, but it is simply the daily life of the crew of the Spanish Customs Surveillance Service’s three Dauphin AS365 N3 helicopters.
"A ‘narcoboat’, as we call the drug traffickers' boats, sails at between 50 and 60 nautical knots with its three or four outboard engines. At this speed, these boats can cross the Strait of Gibraltar in no time," explains Jesús Guardia, Area Head of the Customs Surveillance Service. "We need the helicopters to be able to locate, track, pursue and intercept these boats. Our objective is that these boats do not manage to reach the coast and offload their cargo generally tobacco, hashish or cocaine.
The Customs’ Dauphins have their bases in the hotspots of drug trafficking on the Iberian Peninsula. The main one is in Algeciras to control the passage through the Strait of Gibraltar; the second is in Almería to stop traffic in the Alborán Sea, and the third is in Vigo, patrolling the Rías Baixas area, in particular. Another intermittent base, in the area of Murcia, controls drug trafficking in the Mediterranean, which supplies narcotics to Catalonia and the south of France.
"We carry out routine tracking flights, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar and the "meeting point" area in the Alboran Sea, whose name speaks for itself," explains Jesús.
"The flights are mainly at night and we carry them out with the collaboration of our vessels - we have 45 patrol boats for these tasks - and also land units. We carry out pursuit missions when the vessel has already been located by our colleagues and the Dauphin's speed is needed to prevent the cache from reaching the coast. Finally, we also take part in complex operations that go beyond small-scale drug trafficking, which consist of beaconing, tracking and boarding other types of vessels controlled by the Intelligence Department, which are sometimes sailing or cargo vessels, often carrying tonnes of drugs".
Each year, the Dauphins and the Customs’ BK117 fly for an average of 2,400 hours. To ensure the success of the missions, there are always two pilots and one or two customs agents on board the Dauphin, who manage the mission console and coordinate communications with the maritime patrols.
"The Dauphin is very well suited to our operations because the maritime patrol configuration is just what we need. It is a very fast helicopter, and speed is essential in intercepting the boats. We have a range of three and a half hours flying time with the long range supplementary tanks," says Jesús. "They are equipped with search systems such as an electro-optical system, radar, and of course a search light, as well as satellite communications and tactical systems.”