Maryland State Police expect the new medevac helicopters to be deployed early in 2013, but there are no plans to station one in Montgomery County.
The State Police operated a helicopter designated as Trooper 8 out of a base at Norwood until the Sept. 28, 2008, crash of a helicopter carrying two patients from a car crash. The helicopter crash killed the pilot, a trooper, an emergency medical technician and one of the two patients being transported. The other patient survived her injuries.
In the wake of the crash, State Police closed Trooper 8 because there were not enough helicopters to cover all the bases plus to have others in rotation to serve as backups for those down for maintenance.
A 2011 study by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded Montgomery County was covered sufficiently by helicopters assigned to Frederick and Andrews Air Force Base as well as the National Park Police’s three helicopters stationed in Washington, D.C., said Maj. Mark Gibbons, commander of the aviation division.
Maryland has a $121.7 million contract with AgustaWestland for the 10 multipurpose helicopters, which are used for medevacs, police searches and emergency rescues, Gibbons said.
While the state has 11 Dauphin helicopters in the current fleet, 10 of them have been in service more than 20 years old and 40 percent of the fleet is usually down for either unscheduled or scheduled maintenance, Gibbons said. Unscheduled maintenance is outpacing scheduled maintenance by a three-to-one rate, he said.
The state study determined that the seven bases now in operation would sufficiently cover the state with the 10 new Agusta helicopters, Gibbons said.
Montgomery County is served well by the current helicopter coverage, said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Scott Graham, spokesman for the department. In addition to the Frederick helicopter to the immediate west and the Prince George’s copter to the east, the Park Police serves as a backup to the State Police and if necessary the county calls on the medical helicopters stationed in northern Virginia at hospitals there, Graham said.
Not having a helicopter stationed in Montgomery County does not add to the response time because it takes time to get a patient ready for transport by air and during that time the helicopters are in flight, Graham said.
The state will sell the aging Dauphins. Keeping some for use or as backups would not make financial sense for the state because the state would have to have spare parts and provide pilot training for two different types of aircraft as well as have the higher maintenance costs for the Dauphin, Gibbons said.
“They’re excellent aircraft, and they’ve served their purpose, but once they hit the 20-year mark reliability hits in,” he said.
The standardization of the AW139 helicopters will help with training and maintenance costs, Gibbons said.
The new Maryland State Police helicopter that state officials unveiled Friday returned to Philadelphia on Monday, Gibbons said. The helicopter is still awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval for a couple of the modifications made by the manufacturer at the state’s request to the helicopter’s searchlight and interior used for medical treatment of patients.
The helicopter should be back at the first of the year, Gibbons said. After that, pilot training will begin. The pilots now have a month of flying time on a simulator of the new helicopter, he said.
The other nine helicopters in the fleet are still in production.