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Law Enforcement and Emergency Services

General aviation plays a vital role in supporting law enforcement and medical service operations throughout the United States.

Law Enforcement

General aviation aircraft allow law enforcement officers the ability to extend their field of vision,  assist those on the ground with alerts to dangers that may otherwise go unseen, conduct traffic enforcement, DUI monitoring, and, and help with search and rescue.

By far the most important attribute of these aircraft for law enforcement is their coverage range.  Aircraft can cover large distances quickly in comparison to traditional law enforcement ground units, and help with security and fire fighting missions.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2007 roughly 1 in every 5 large law enforcement agencies had a specialized aviation unit operating at least one fixed-wing plane or helicopter. [1]
  • A total of 201 aviation units throughout the United States provided aerial law enforcement coverage in 46 states (Wyoming, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Idaho being the 4 states without aviation units) and the District of Columbia with at least one aviation unit covering the entire jurisdiction and with 30 having at least one additional unit under either a city or county jurisdiction.[2]
  • According to the report by the Department of Justice, 9 out of 10 aerial law enforcement units responded to calls for service or direct assistance to ground units. [3]
  • Of the 201 airborne law enforcement units across the U.S., nearly half issued traffic enforcement citations or made DUI arrests. [4]
  • 79% of units reported being involved in counterterrorism operations, such as conducting facility checks on buildings, ports, public utilities, oil refineries, bridges, airports, and monuments. [5]
  • Units were also involved with surveillance (85%), counter-narcotics (89%), stolen vehicle recovery (72%), just to name a few.[6]
  • 92% of county police units across the United States conducted search and rescue operationsfor missing individuals.[7]

General aviation aircraft are crucial to everyday law enforcement operations, supportingvital services for communities, responding quickly to emergency threats and ensuring the safety of both responding officers and the general public.

To read the report by the U.S. Department of Justice in full, click here

Medical Services

Throughout the United States, emergency medical services utilize helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to provide vital services to the general public. In 2010, the Atlas & Database of Air Medical Services (ADAMS) of the Association of Air Medical Services reported that there were 306 medical service operators  operating 900 helicopters and 311 airplanes.[8]  Each year, 1 out of 1,000 people in the United States requires air medical services.[9] When dispatched at the same time as ground EMS, the response capabilities of helicopters allows over 54% of the United States population access to a full-service trauma center within 60 minutes.[10]

Helicopter air ambulances are typically used to transport patients from the scene of an injury directly to hospitals and trauma centers.  Airplanes are also often used when patients need to travel a longer distance to receive special services and in rural areas..  Air-medical transport provides a higher level of medical care for the patient en-route, and optimizes the critical care patients receive from the start of their emergency through treatment at a medical facility.

Air medical services also provide a vital services to rural communities, bringing patients to specialty critical care without delay, which is becoming more crucial as rural communities have continued to find themselves cut-off from vital emergency care due to recent changes to the nation’s healthcare delivery system.

  • Across the country, the number of rural community hospitals has dropped from 2,500 in 1988 to 2,000 in 2008.[11]
  • Emergency departments in community hospitals have also declined during the same period, falling from 5,100 to 4,600.[12]
  • Across the country, there has been a decline in the number of trauma centers.
  • Specialists and specialty care has become less available in non-urban settings.
  • On occasion, air medical aircraft may be called upon to transport blood, supplies or other medical supplies when they are limited or non-existent.
  • These aircraft may also be called upon to transport specialized medical staff to assist with a mass casualty event or augment rural hospital staff in stabilizing patients requiring special care prior to transport.

According to the Atlas and Database of Air Medical Services,  between September 2010 and September 2011, the total number of bases with rotor wing aircraft increased from 731 to 764, with the number of aircraft also increasing from 900-929. [13] Within the same time period, the number of bases with fixed-wing services also increased, from 165 to 173.


  • [1] United States Department of Justice, Aviation Units in Large Law Enforcement Agencies, 2007; Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, July 2009, pg 1.
  • [2] ibid. pg. 2
  • [3] ibid. pg. 3
  • [4] ibid. pg. 8
  • [5] ibid. pg. 8
  • [6] ibid. pg. 8
  • [7] ibid. pg. 9
  • [8] http://www.aams.org/AAMS/Media_Room/ADAMS_ Database/AAMS/MediaRoom/ADAMSDatabase/ ADAMS_Database.aspx?hkey=4cccf748-2bc7-4bb9-b41a- c710366c51dc . Accessed April, 2012
  • [9] ibid. pg. iii
  • [10] ibid. pg. 13
  • [11] ibid. pg. 9
  • [12] ibid. pg. 9
  • [13] Atlas and Database of Air Medical Services, http://www.adamsairmed.org/pubs/ADAMS_Intro.pdf pg. 16

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