Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Maryland: State Medevac Choppers Flew 136 Promotion Missions in 2013 costing over $220K

Maryland State Police have disclosed they flew 136 community outreach missions in 2013 amid mounting costs for maintaining dual medevac fleets during a troubled transition to new AW-139 helicopters.

The added fuel costs and maintenance of operating two fleets, along with the outreach missions, pushed the aviation command into a deeper deficit than originally estimated.

The numbers were disclosed in a response to a letter from Senator John Astle seeking details about the troubled transition to new AW-139s. The new choppers were purchased in 2010 for roughly $130 million to replace a fleet of aging Dauphin helicopters.

State Police said the missions were in response to requests from community groups to display helicopters at their events.

According to police there were 80 missions conducted in a Dauphin for a total of 56.8 hours of flight time. Direct cost per hour was $2,974, for a total of $168,923. There were 35 missions in an AW-139 with a total of 19.4 flight hours. Direct cost per hour was $3,042, for a total of $59,015. Fourteen of the promotional appearances were static and did not involve flight time.

"Community outreach missions most often involve fire departments, ambulance services or other first providers and are conducted as part of a comprehensive safety plan to ensure our partners in Maryland's EMS system remain safe during actual law enforcement and medevac missions," a state police spokesperson told FOX45. "These outreach missions are a universal practice across the industry and are necessary to ensure safety to our flight crews, ground providers, patients and bystanders alike. One mishap as a result of inadequate preparation would eclipse the costs of this necessary outreach training."

The revelation comes amid disclosures that the aviation command ran-up a $3.4 million deficit for the past fiscal year due to increased maintenance and fuel costs. The amount exceeds recent estimates by state budget analysts who reported the helicopter unit exceeded its previous budget by $2.7 million. State police blamed the deficit on analysts who anticipated a faster roll-out of the new choppers than actually occurred.

"During the preparation of the 2014 budget, the Department of Budget Management's forecast assumed that all AW-139s would be delivered, operational and under warranty in 2014, and reduced maintenance costs and fuels fund accordingly," the letter to Senator Astle stated.

The state took delivery of the new choppers in March of 2013. But plans to fly the AW-139s with only one pilot were scrapped when the FAA required the state to have two. Since then the state has budgeted for an additional 10 pilots with another planned to be hired in 2015. Police also revealed only three of the new helicopters are actually flying medevac missions.The remaining AW-139s are being used for training and support.

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