APSA: Supporting, Promoting, & Advancing Safe Flying

April 12, 2021

Around the late 1960s and early 1970s, the US government supplied increasing amounts of funds, or grants, to police departments to enhance capabilities. An allowable expense of these funds was aircraft.

Many of the police departments in the US that were the early adopters of helicopters as a law enforcement tool started around that time, but it didn't come without growing pains.

"In the early years, they would take a police radio out of a patrol car, put it into the helicopter, and fly with it," explains Dan Schwarzbach, CEO for the Airborne Public Safety Association (APSA).

"The aircraft vibration caused the radio to fall apart, and they would have to keep switching them out."

To figure out best practices, police departments running airborne missions had to rely on each other.

In 1968, an impromptu meeting under the wing of an airplane in Wichita, Kansas, led to the beginning of APSA: a nonprofit, educational association for the industry.

APSA leads with a mission to support, promote, and advance the safe and effective utilization of manned and unmanned aircraft by governmental agencies. They do this by providing educational seminars, networking systems, and product expositions to its members.

For its first 48 years, APSA was known as the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) because, in the early years, funds from the US government for aircraft in public services only went to police departments.

"As law enforcement got these aircraft and eventually, more capable aircraft, they could do proof of concept, and aircraft became viable enforcement tool," says Schwarzbach.  

Schwarzbach began working for the Houston Police Department in 1980. In 1985, he joined their air support division, where he flew for the next 30 years. During his time flying, he became a member of the ALEA.

He was elected to the ALEA board after ten years. From 2014 to 2019, Schwarzbach worked as their CEO and Executive Director.

In 2018, ALEA changed its name to APSA, encompassing the whole gamut of public services.

Today, APSA has over 2500 members worldwide.

When inadvertent IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) was the number one killer of public service aviators, APSA spent three years highlighting it in every educational tool they released.

"We were talking about it in every annual conference, regional safety seminar, and every safety article in the magazine," says Schwarzbach.

Since then, there have been no IIMC deaths in public safety aviation in the US.

Public safety aviation units can also participate in APSA's Accreditation Program to ensure that safety standards are met and maintained. ASPA evaluates and certifies a unit's overall compliance, and the accreditation is valid for three years.

Their accreditation program recently caught the US State Department's interest. The US State Department often places aircraft in different countries to help with drug interdiction.

When one program in Guatemala wanted to ensure their longevity, the US State Department approached APSA to help the team reach a higher level of safety by adhering to their set of standards.

A similar program in Panama has also reached.

As the sector grows, so too does APSA. With its accreditation program, annual conferences, safety seminars, and educational tools, APSA is turning its vision for the industry - the safe and successful completion of every airborne public safety operation – into a reality.

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