Costs of Maryland's New AW-139 Fleet Continue to Rise
Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:11 PM EDT
The state's new AW-139 helicopters are slated to begin medevac duties and rescue missions later this summer. But a sudden shift in policy is raising new questions about safety, and the mounting costs to operate the new fleet.
A decision to purchase 12 of the larger, more technologically advanced helicopters was controversial when it was made in 2008 – and remains so today. The requisition forced the state to borrow $133 million instead of choosing cheaper alternatives such as privatizing the fleet or refurbishing existing helicopters.
When the deal was made, a key selling point for state officials were promises they could be flown by a single pilot. Now in an abrupt reversal state police have officially decided to put two pilots in the cockpit at all times, a move that could be costly for taxpayers.
A letter obtained by FOX45 reveals a behind-the-scenes battle between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Maryland State Police. In it, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger asks the FAA to back down from their decision to require two pilots in the cockpit of the AW-139s. The letter highlights three occasions where the state asked for a waiver to allow just one pilot to fly the new helicopters. The FAA eventually agreed.
Now State Police say they have changed their minds and will comply with the FAA’s original mandate and staff each aircraft with two pilots – a move which will require 20 additional pilots and cost the state police at least another $2 million a year.
Police commanders say it's the price Maryland taxpayers will have to bear to ensure everyone has safe access to a top flight medevac service when they need it.