CBP Air and Marine dedicates new aviation center

Jun. 7th, 2012
James Gilbert

The Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine Branch cut the ribbon to officially open its new $8 million Aviation Maintenance and Operations Center during a ceremony inside its hangar Thursday. Not only will the newly built facility enhance CBP’s air operations in the region, said Martin Miles, director of air operations of the Yuma Air Branch, it will expand coordination between it and other Yuma-area federal, state and law enforcement agencies. Miles called the previous facility “entirely inadequate,” saying that while the pilots and mechanics always did their best, a new facility was needed to meet the growth within the air branch and to increase its operational effectiveness. CBP’s Air and Marine Division has been a tenant of the airport authority since the late 1970s and had previously kept its six helicopters in an old T-shaped hangar facility on the west side of the airport, where mechanics often worked outdoors. There was also a small modular building used for space, but it didn’t have any restrooms. “The primary goal here is was basically to improve the working conditions for our maintenance crews and pilots,” Miles said. “Allowing our maintenance crews to work indoors where there is air conditioning will help our operation move a little faster, especially in the summertime, by having more aircraft available more often.” The 8.5-acre aviation complex includes a 10,000-square-foot administrative office building and two newly constructed hangars, both of which have over 12,000 square feet of floor space and a separate aviation parts storage facility. The facility also includes a fourth airport-owned building that is approximately 9,780 square feet and will be renovated for use as a ground support equipment repair and maintenance shop and as additional storage. “Facilities such as this one are critical for the work and mission that CBP agents perform while protecting the southwestern region of Arizona,” said CBP assistant commissioner Michael Kostelnik. “The construction includes workspace for our agents, state-of-the-art technologies and space for maintenance of our aircraft to help them continue to disrupt illegal activities in this border region.” Kostelnik, in speaking to community leaders, military commanders, airport officials and representatives from various Yuma-area law enforcement agencies during the ceremony, said the Department of Homeland Security has made significant investments in border security over the years, but its facilities have not kept pace with the growth it has had in personnel and equipment, especially in CBP’s Air and Marine Branch, which had quickly outgrown its current lease space in Yuma. While it has been in operation since mid-May, Jeffrey D. Self, commander of the Arizona Joint Field Command, noted that years of hard work went into making the new facility a reality and CBP’s Air and Marine Branch is thrilled that it has finally been built. “From this new facility, CBP’s unique law enforcement capabilities will continue its anti-terrorism mission along Arizona’s border,” Self said. “By jointly integrating all enforcement operations in facilities like this one, and effectively using intelligence and technology to stay one step ahead of the transnational criminal organizations, together we will force these criminal organizations to cease and desist operations in this area.” Yuma Mayor Al Krieger said the new facility will go a long way to ensuring the border is kept as safe as the residents of Yuma County and the nation expect it to be. He also talked how the Yuma Sector is a model for other communities to follow when it comes to fighting crime in border sectors. Krieger also talked about how the facility was the first aviation facility to be built from the ground up for CBP and the Department of Homeland Security, and that it was all done locally. MAC Electric and Pilkington Commercial Construction were awarded the contract to build it and used local subcontractors as well, which had tremendous economic impact to the community. The Yuma Air Branch is responsible for providing air border security patrols and smuggling interdiction in 180 miles of the southwestern border between El Centro and Ajo, Ariz. CBP Office of Air and Marine deploys the world’s largest law enforcement air and marine force to enhance homeland security and enforce immigration customs laws. CBP deploys more than 900 air and marine interdiction agents and more than 250 aircraft and 300 watercraft to patrol the land borders and coastal waters of the U.S. These include northern and southern U.S. Borders, the Caribbean Sea, and Pacific Ocean off of Southern California and Mexico. CBP Air and Marine assets assist other federal agencies during law enforcement and special operations and provide search and rescue support during times of national emergencies.

James Gilbert
Sun Staff Writer
Yuma Sun
Jun. 7th, 2012