The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) uses its helicopter as a key tool in fighting crime, but last month the chopper was spotted doing something that was more Hollywood than Winnipeg.
Air-1, which is the city’s only police helicopter, spent time in La Salle in December working on an upcoming film starring Aaron Paul from AMC’s TV series Breaking Bad.
The city wouldn’t specify exactly what the helicopter was doing, how much it cost and why public equipment was flown when there are dozens of rental choppers available that are not paid for by taxpayers.
The city declined a Global News interview request but sent a statement confirming the helicopter’s usage for a 72-minute commercial film shoot and saying that WPS dispatch still took priority.
Taxpayers paid $3.5 million for Air-1 and the police chopper costs nearly $2 million a year to operate.
The legalities surrounding the helicopter’s close-up are still unclear, but experts say a public service aircraft being used in the capacity of a commercial air craft breaks federal aviation operation rules if it doesn’t have the proper licensing or liability insurance.
In a statement, WPS admitted that Air-1 was used in the film shoot, but said the chopper was never more than a few seconds from city limits.
“The request to use the helicopter came from the city’s Manager of Film and Special Events to help meet critical resource and production timelines. The request was assessed and was deemed a low risk,” WPS said.
“Production contracts are considered confidential; however our costs were assessed at a cost recovery basis only. At no time did Air-1 carry passengers, cargo or lift anything for the shoot. No incidents requiring Air-1 to divert occurred during its use.”
The statement concluded that WPS assisted the City with the film shoot “in the spirit of community and civic engagement,” and pointed out that the film industry in Manitoba has brought over a billion dollars to the local economy in the past decade.
This isn’t the first time the police helicopter has been used for something other than crime-related business. In September 2016, Air-1 landed on a parking lot next to Investors Group Field for a promotional visit with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. After the photo-op, a WPS spokesperson confirmed the chopper has also visited the police community golf tournament, half-marathon, RCAF training and the Stonewall Touch a Truck.