Saturday, February 02, 2013

Maryland: Costs of New State Police Helicopter Adding ..... (With Video)

Maryland State police will take ownership of six new state-of-the-art helicopters this year,with another six more to come. The helicopters were supposed to cost 12-million dollars each, but a FOX45 News investigation shows unadvertised costs could add millions of dollars to the final price.   

In October of last year, the police proudly showed off one of six new helicopters that would be delivered in 2013. Since acquiring the new AW-139's, costs have started piling on from equipment to training.

FOX45 obtained the manual for the AW-139 and discovered it calls for two  pilots; the state is asking the FAA for permission to fly them with just one pilot. Retraining new pilots would cost up to $80,000 each. The price tag is high, but it is a necessity accord to aviation experts.

Dick Johnson, an aviation expert, said "The AW139 needs four feet and four hands."

For years MD State Police has been asking for new air-crafts. Several lawmakers considered retrofitting the fleet which would keep existing airframes but replace old equipment. Retrofitting would have still cost millions, but would have cost less than buying new air-crafts.

When legislature approved the purchase of the new AW-139's, it was initially expected to cost a total of 71-million dollars.

The Comptroller of Maryland, Peter Franchot, said, "I was skeptical about the costs of replacing the fleet. It seemed awfully expensive."

The purchase has become even more expensive than originally thought, and  the price could continue to climb steadily if the state has to hire new pilots. An additional 2 million dollars a year could be tacked on to the purchase price if the state needs to hire new pilots.

"Once we get experience we're going to make a decision to go with two pilots," said the Commander of the States Aviation Command, Chris Lovejoy.

Documents obtained by FOX45 show the helicopters were in need of changes to the fuselage and upgrades to allow medical personnel to man search lights. The documented changes added 1.1-million dollars to the price tag of each helicopter.

State Senator E.J. Pipkin said, 'They were projected to cost about $11 million a piece, last numbers we see last delivery around $14.7 million."

State Comptroller Franchot is not surprised by the outcome. The purchase attracted only one bidder, and was given priority over less expensive alternatives like refurbishing the existing fleet.  Discouraged by the outcome, Franchot said, "Before you go out and buy a new expensive system, it's always smart to get the maximum use out of your existing fleet."

State Senator E.J. Ripkin believes the flaw in the procurement process should have prompted more debate and better analysis, saying, "At the end of the day, the thought process is something bigger and better."  

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