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Mon, Mar 19, 2012

North Carolina Legislature Eyes VIP Helo For Budget Cuts

Watchdog Agency Says S-76C+ Overpriced, Underutilized

A legislative budget watchdog in North Carolina says the state's S-76C+ helicopter flies too little, is too expensive, and should be sold as a cost-savings measure. The Sikorsky is used primarily as VIP transport, and reportedly flies only about six hours per month.

The North Carolina Legislature's Program Evaluation Division issued a report Wednesday that found the helo cost about $560,000 per year to operate those six hours a month. In 2010, a similar report resulted in the sale of other underutilized aircraft by the state, according to a report from the Associated Press. Since then the state has sold 19 of its aircraft.

The report said the twin-engine Sikorsky was used about half the time by the Department of Commerce. It is often used by governors who tour the state following hurricanes. The DOT says it was purchased in 1998 for $6.2 million. It has seven leather seats, a wood-trim interior, and a refreshment center.

Following the report, the DOT issued a statement saying it is considering selling the aircraft, but replacing it with a more utilitarian helicopter that would have a lower operating cost and be used by law enforcement as well as economic development.

But one Republican state senator, Rick Gunn of Alamance, NC, said the state should not be quick to "cut corners" on such things as VIP transport. He said corporate executives deciding where to locate or expand their businesses expect such amenities, and that North Carolina is competing with other companies and other states which may have them.

On the other hand, Republican state Senator Stephen LaRoque of Lenoir, NC said a less expensive helicopter would do just fine. He said its unlikely that a business executive which is considering where to locate a business would care in what kind of helicopter he or she is transported. (S-76 file image provided by Sikorsky)



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