BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Aviation Units
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Aviation units are comprised of specialized officers that provide aerial law enforcement coverage through the operation of fixed-wing planes and helicopters. These units perform functions ranging from general operations, such as engaging in pursuits and responding to calls for service, to more specialized operations, such as homeland security, emergency medical services (EMS), special weapons and tactics (SWAT), and firefighting missions. The report presents information on the characteristics, expenditures, equipment, personnel, functions, and training and safety requirements of aviation units found in law enforcement agencies with 100 or more sworn officers.

Summary findings

  • During 2007, about 1 in 5 large law enforcement agencies had a specialized aviation unit operating at least one fixed-wing plane or helicopter.  These 201 aviation units employed about 3,400 persons, operated almost 900 aircraft in 46 states and the District of Columbia, and logged an estimated 363,000 flight hours.
  • In 2007, 92% of aviation units engaged in vehicle pursuits.  Almost 90% of units performed counternarcotics missions, and about 80% conducted counterterrorism missions.
  • Approximately 75% of agencies with 1,000 or more sworn officers had aviation units, compared to 6% of agencies with less than 250 sworn officers.
  • In 2007, half of all aviation units used helicopters only, compared to 12% operating planes only.  More than a third (37%) of all aviation units operated both helicopters and planes.
  • Among the positions held by aviation unit personnel, pilots accounted for the largest percentage of employees (51%), followed by tactical flight officers (24%), mechanics (11%), administrators (6%), paramedics (6%), and other personnel (2%).

Data Collections & Surveys

Publications & Products

Aviation Units in Large Law Enforcement Agencies, 2007 Examines the specialized airborne police units that operate fixed-wing planes or helicopters in large state and local law enforcement agencies.
  Press Release | PDF (433K) | ASCII file (28K) | Spreadsheet

Law Enforcement aviation unit personnel, by position title, 2007 Table 11 from Aviation Unit in Large Law Enforcement Agencies, 2007 Special Report
  Download CSV file (Data Table 2 KB)

Law enforcement agencies with 100 or more sworn personnel and aviation units, by agency type and size, 2007 Table 1 from Aviation Units in Large Law Enforcement Agencies, 2007 Special Report
  Download CSV file (Data Table 2 KB)

Terms & Definitions

Large law enforcement agencies Non-federal departments employing 100 or more full-time sworn officers.