State May Raise Vehicle Registration Fee to Raise Money for Medevac Helicopter Fleet
Updated: Tuesday, February 11 2014, 05:34 PM EST
Though at least $130 million in Maryland taxpayer dollars has been spent to purchase 10 new AW-139 medevac helicopters, millions is still being spent to keep the old fleet in use. Nearly $2 million has been spent since 2012 to keep the old Dauphin fleet in the air.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions about this project," Delegate Pat McDonough said.
According to state police, the roll-out is going according to plan, with four new AW-139s already in the air and flying missions, including the recent deployment of a new AW-139 for medevac service in Salisbury.
But issues with the new fleet began before the first helicopter was every delivered to the state. The helicopter takes two pilots to fly. The state police repeatedly asked the FAA to waive thar requirement, but ultimately lost. It means that state police must spend $600,000 to hire additional pilots, a cost not factored into the original price tag.
State Senator John Astle, a former aviator, sent a letter to State Police Commander Marcus Brown asking detailed questions about the deployment of the AW-139s. [CLICK HERE to see the full letter]
"I don't think the legislature has an adequate picture of what's going on," Astle said.
His questions seek specifics on a variety of challenges facing the state's medevac system, among them pilot retention issues, extra training costs and almost $2 million in repairs to the older Dauphins which many believe should have already been sold.
They are all mounting costs that Astle worries could translate into more spending. In fact, he says closed door discussions have already begun at the state house about raising more money for the medevac program by making Maryland drivers pay more.
"I'm hearing they may be trying to increase the vehicle registration fee," Astle said.
For their part, state police says they will answer the senator's questions soon.
In a written statement state police spokesperson Gregg Shipley says he believes the senator's concerns are unwarranted.
"We believe the facts and information we will provide will alleviate his concerns and assure him the Aviation Command is transitioning to the new helicopter fleet in a professional and effective manner," Shipley wrote.
Astle says the process will serve both the taxpayers on the ground and the pilots in the air.