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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2002

Cost of a second chopper

Toledo police have been flying their own helicopter for less than eight months, and already some members of City Council are urging acquisition of a second aircraft as a backup.

The $504,000 helicopter, purchased last year through a federal grant, seems to have been useful as a crime-fighting tool, but the issue of maintenance costs needs to be examined.

The question of whether Toledo can afford a second chopper arose when a police official told council that “Air One” will have to go back to the factory in a couple of years for a complete overhaul.

The maintenance work, required by the Federal Aviation Administration when the helicopter has been flown 2,200 hours, will cost $165,000 at current labor rates. The overhaul will take four months, during which time the police will be without the use of its eye in the sky.

So far, the helicopter has been flown a little over 400 hours, and police officials expect to log up to 800 hours a year. That means an overhaul once every three years or so.

From that standpoint, having a backup aircraft might seem sensible, but maintaining two helicopters would mean that operational costs would double, and personnel expenses would rise as the department trained more officers to man the second bird.

To the city's advantage, Air One has been mechanically maintained gratis by personnel from St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center's Life Flight operation. The hospital agreed to perform the work for 18 months, but it is doubtful that this arrangement can continue indefinitely. And then the expense would fall on city taxpayers.

At a time of economic downturn and result- ant budget-cutting, council members must consider whether a second helicopter - even if it can be acquired with federal rather than city funds - might be sucking the city into a vortex of spiraling expense that might prove more of a burden than it's worth.

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