The Board of Supervisors is slated Tuesday to approve a procurement plan for the newest and largest helicopter to be added to the Riverside County sheriff’s fleet.
Sheriff Chad Bianco’s request to acquire a twin-engine Airbus H145 was approved by the board in June, but financing arrangements — and a final price tag — had not been established.
According to sheriff’s officials, the previously estimated amount of $11.5 million was short just over a million bucks. The price negotiated with Airbus Helicopters Inc., including taxes, comes to $12.52 million.
Bianco’s staff said the aviation unit had examined a number of prospects, including choppers manufactured by Bell, Leonardo and MD, but in the end, the H145 was the obvious choice, based on the department’s eight pilots’ familiarity and comfort with the single-engine Airbus Astar AS350s already in use.
“The pilots are familiar with the control panel, equipment and performance of the aircraft, and maintaining the same type of fleet is advantageous, especially when the pilot needs to make a quick decision during an emergency,” according to a sheriff’s statement. “Additionally, the department has invested substantially in Airbus inventory parts to keep the Airbus fleet in operation, and staying with the same manufacture will allow the department to utilize the same inventory.”
What’s more, all of the agency’s aircraft mechanics are certified to provide routine maintenance on Airbus models, sheriff’s officials said.
With the board’s approval, the Department of Purchasing will iron out terms of the bank loan that’s been authorized to buy the H145.
During the board’s June 25 meeting, Bianco made a case for the new chopper by highlighting its ability to reach a higher altitude, or service ceiling, during search-and-rescue and other operations, compared to the choppers currently on hand. The H145 can also haul eight people, whereas the smaller AS350s carry four.
“It will allow us to perform rescues in the mountains and perform tactical rescues, if needed. Every other agency has a helicopter capable of these kinds of things,” Bianco told the board.
He had proposed spending the department’s remaining reserve from the last fiscal year — $11.5 million — to buy the aircraft and pay for the various equipment installation services afterward.
However, coming on the heels of budget hearings in which the county Executive Office called for disciplined, prudent spending decisions aimed at preserving a financial cushion to absorb unanticipated costs, several board members questioned the need to exhaust funds that might otherwise go back into contingency accounts, or might alternately be spent on swelling the sheriff’s ranks.
County CEO George Johnson advocated that the board not greenlight the use of $11.5 million that could pad reserves, but instead allow staff to obtain a loan at a 2% annual percentage rate to procure the helicopter.
The board unanimously agreed to the financing approach.