NCDOT will trade 3 aircraft for a more efficient fleet

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comMarch 29, 2013 

The NCDOT's twin-engine Sikorsky S76 helicopter is lightly used but costs the state $420,000 a year. COURTESY OF THE NCDOT


— Soon after he started work as the state aviation director a few years ago, Richard J. Walls discovered a sweet fleet of aircraft in the state Department of Transportation hangar at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Too sweet for the state’s needs, he says, and too costly to operate.

Now as a DOT deputy secretary, Walls has worked out a plan to sell a twin-engine Sikorsky helicopter, a Cessna jet and a King Air turbo-prop. He’ll replace them with three more fuel-efficient aircraft that are smaller and slower – but, he says, more than adequate for the demands of DOT and other agencies that use them.

“We want to get a fleet that matches our mission better,” Walls said. “It’s a very regional mission. Mainly we fly inside North Carolina. And to Washington, D.C., occasionally.”

He expects to sell the old ones for a bit more than it will cost to buy the new ones. He says DOT will save about $500,000 a year in reduced operating costs.

State agencies use the DOT fleet of one chopper and three fixed-wing aircraft to survey disaster recovery efforts and to chauffeur government leaders on official business, and for economic-development missions and aerial photogrammetry.

The 1998 eight-passenger Cessna Citation Bravo jet flies as fast as 390 knots, at a cost of about $2,000 an hour. That might be a good fit if state officials needed it for frequent trips halfway across the United States, Walls said, but not for their short hops from Raleigh to Wilmington.

He has his eye on a 2009 or newer TBM 850 one-engine turbo-prop that seats four and travels at 250 knots. The cost to operate it is $500 to $600 an hour, he said. DOT’s new frontline plane will be the only one Walls plans to keep, a nine-passenger King Air that gets 290 knots.

To replace a seven-seat Sikorsky helicopter that only flies 70 hours a year, he’ll get a five-seat Bell helicopter that DOT can share with the State Highway Patrol.

“When we go to the Bell, we’ll have a shared asset we think will fly 300 hours a year,” Walls said.

Walls didn’t hire a consultant for this. He doesn’t have a report. Just his own spreadsheet.

He said he’s being conservative in his calculations that DOT will be able to update its fleet without new funds from the legislature. The 1998 Sikorsky has been appraised at $5.5 million, but if it brings at least $4.2 million, he’ll have more than enough.

“It’s great to be more efficient,” Walls said. “But if you’ve got to spend $2 million to get there, it wouldn’t make sense to do it.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or or

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