County to upgrade helicopter

   County supervisors have approved spending about $1.067 million to upgrade a sheriff’s helicopter and on related county administrative expenses.

   The supervisors last week directed the Department of Purchasing and Contracting to enter into negotiations with MD Helicopter Inc. and award a contract contingent upon successful negotiations and determination of a fair and reasonable price.

   The Sheriff’s Department Aerial Support To Regional Enforcement Agencies (ASTREA) unit uses a mixed fleet of helicopters manufactured by Bell and McDonnell Douglas. The helicopters are used for locating suspects, search and rescue missions, firefighting and other purposes.

   The MD500E helicopter to be converted was purchased by the county in 2000. It performed well for its first three years, but since 2003 the county has spent more than $200,000 on repairs, the county reported. Its engine has logged 4,355 hours and is considered to be at the end of its useful life, and the helicopter is grounded because it cannot generate the specified power required to perform missions safely and reliably.

   MD Helicopter Inc. has Federal Aviation Administration certification to convert an MD500E helicopter to an MD530FF. The current market value of the MD500E is estimated at $500,000 and a new MD530FF would cost $2.6 million, so, even if the MD500E is sold a conversion would save the county more than $1 million compared to the purchase of a new MD530FF, according to a report to the supervisors.

   
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