McCrory wants to sell the state’s helicopter

jfrank@newsobserver.com bsiceloff@newsobserver.comMay 2, 2014 

To save money, Gov. Pat McCrory wants to sell the state’s helicopter. This 1998 Sikorsky S-76 cost $265,000 to operate and maintain in 2013, even though it logged only 14.3 hours in flight. The governor is putting it on eBay.

NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

— To save money, Gov. Pat McCrory wants to sell the state’s helicopter.

The 1998 Sikorsky S-76 cost $265,000 to operate and maintain in 2013, even though it logged only 14.3 hours in flight. So the governor is putting it on eBay.

“This is one more example of how state government is operating more efficiently by taking a close look at resources and finding ways to cut costs,” McCrory said in a statement.

The 12-passenger helicopter could fetch $3 million at auction, based on prices of similar models listed for sale online. All proceeds from the sale would go to the state’s general fund, according to the governor’s office.

The state Department of Transportation manages the helicopter, as well as two twin turbo-prop passenger planes and a Cessna Citation Bravo Jet. Past governors and state officials used the helicopter to survey disaster zones and assist in economic development projects.

McCrory is taking action on the first step of a plan announced in March 2013 by Richard Walls, a DOT deputy secretary, to replace the helicopter and two airplanes with aircraft that are more fuel-efficient and less expensive to operate.

Walls said he wanted to replace the state’s eight-passenger Cessna Citation Bravo, which flies as fast as 390 knots at a cost of $2,000 an hour, with something like a four-passenger TBM 850 one-engine turbo-prop, with a top speed of 250 knots and an operating cost of $500 to $600 an hour.

Walls proposed also to unload a King Air turbo-prop but to keep a nine-passenger King Air that gets 290 knots.

He said Friday that he hopes to post the Sikorsky notice online next week, followed soon by more transactions.

“We’ve got momentum going now, so I think we’ll transition pretty quickly from the helicopter to whatever the next one will be,” Walls said.

He had originally planned to replace the Sikorsky with a five-seat Bell helicopter that DOT could share with the State Highway Patrol, but instead the administration plans to negotiate a contract with a private helicopter provider to allow access when needed. No further details about the potential costs were available.

Compared with his predecessors, McCrory has used the Sikorsky the least. In his first year, the state escaped major hurricane damage along the coast. The hours logged in the Republican’s first year of office were half the lowest total in the past seven years, costing $74,360, according to state records.

The helicopter costs $5,200 an hour to operate. It requires two pilots.

Former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley’s administration put 112.6 hours on the helicopter in 2007 to the tune of $585,520, records show, and nearly 78.7 hours in 2008 at $409,240.

Under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, the total reached about 63 hours, at $327,600 in both 2012 and 2011.

In 2010, Perdue’s administration put in 56.1 hours at $291,720; and in 2009, 29.8 hours at $154,960.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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