Tuesday, November 30, 2021

CHOPPER: Just say no, Bob

| November 21, 2021 1:00 AM

I urge Sheriff Norris to abandon his plan of obtaining a helicopter to be used by the Sheriff’s Department. Instead, I would suggest that he use the funds destined for an Air Support Unit and give his deputies a well-deserved pay raise.

I’m a commercial-rated pilot for both helicopters and airplanes. I worked in law enforcement aviation for a medium-sized police department in So. California from 1977-1982, first as an observer and later as a helicopter pilot.

Our aviation unit was funded by a federal grant. There was not enough money in the grant to buy a helicopter, so the city leased a small helicopter from a flight school. When the grant ended, so did our helicopter program. The costs of continuing it were not sustainable.

Although the helicopter might be donated to KCSO, normal operating expenses — fuel, maintenance, insurance — are astronomically expensive. Even considering that pilot services and some maintenance labor might be donated, the high-dollar items: turbine engine, transmissions and rotor blades need to be in the budget for replacement or overhaul.

Most every part on a helicopter is time-life limited. For example, rotor blades are good for between 2,800 and 4,000 flight hours. An engine overhaul is at least $200,000.

Most operators budget between $400 and $500 per flight hour for direct operating costs. Lt. Ellis contemplates 40-50 hours a month usage. Using the lower numbers, $400/hr. x 40 hours use is $16,000 a month!

Ideally, the observer should be trained by another law enforcement agency. I don’t know if the county is self-insured. If so, the county’s risk-management person should be in the loop.

The helicopter will need to be changed with the FAA from civilian use to public use.

Lastly, every airborne law enforcement unit needs someone to develop written policies and procedures.

Presently, I don’t believe the projected expenses of an air support unit can be justified for the Sheriff’s Department. The Department has a severe retention problem due mostly to lower-than-average pay. Please give these deputies a raise instead of operating a helicopter.