Medevac Helicopters Safety in Question
Updated: Thursday, January 31 2013, 08:58 PM EST
The new Maryland State Police helicopters used for saving lives, search and rescues, and law enforcement could add millions of dollars of costs to taxpayers.
In 2010, the state agreed to buy six brand new State Police helicopters for $14 million apiece. Critics argued that the state should have retrofitted existing helicopters, which could have saved millions of dollars.
Now, the new fleet could cost taxpayers even more than originally thought. The new helicopters, known as AW 139's, require two pilots to operate but state police are planning on using just one pilot per aircraft.
In a letter obtained by FOX45 from the FAA to Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, State Police are asking for permission to fly the new medevac helicopters with only one pilot.
"After the state went out and found the helicopters, where you only had one pilot, all of sudden the FAA says you need two," said Ruppersberger.
The state's request to fly with just one pilot raises safety concerns among aviation experts. When aviation expert Dick Johnson was asked if the helicopters should be flown with one pilot, he responded, "The pilots I talked to say no." Johnson continued, "The AW 139 needs four feet and four hands."
The state is now looking to buy an additional three helicopters along with a simulator to train pilots. Chris Lovejoy, Commander for the State's Aviation Command, admitted to FOX45 that five state pilots failed the FAA muster to fly the new helicopters and had to be retrained.
"You're looking now at $122 million, but it could go as high as $220 million," said Johnson, "It's going to cost the taxpayer $75,000 per pilot."
State Senator E.J. Pipkin says the ballooning costs could have been avoided. "A lot of questions on the front end were glossed over so you ended up with a single procurement and giant helicopter with more manpower demands. That's why you end up with extra costs," said Pipkin.
In 2008 when the legislature debated the purchase, Pipkin argued for more cost effective alternatives like privatizing the fleet and refurbishing existing choppers.
While the Aviation Command insists that investment into the new helicopters is worth it, Senator Pipkin says it is waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.
State Police will make a decision this summer on whether to fly the chopper with two pilots.