By Dana Amihere
The Board of Public Works voted Wednesday to grant $500,000 more to Medevac helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland despite prolonged protest from a citizen who insisted the state is getting gipped.
The contract approved by the board authorizes the price modification of the aircraft — ranging from about $50,000 to $76,000 each for nine helicopters — to account for a remodeled searchlight and medical interior as well as changes to the original contract terms. The base price of the helicopters was $11.7 million for the first six but went up to $12.1 million for the next three new orders.
Dick Johnson of Catonsville, who’s been protesting the state’s helicopter procurement contract with AgustaWestland since it was finalized in 2010, says isn’t a good investment overall.
“We selected the worst helicopter in the helicopter manufacture industry — the most expensive to maintain…We should cut our losses and refurbish what we have,” Johnson said.
Moreover, Johnson says, the AW139 model in question isn’t safe. Design flaws, he says, such as the cramped interior for medical workers to assist patients is “a disaster waiting to happen.”
While the AW139 has had at least four fatal crashes abroad since 2010, there have been no major incidents reported by other government operators in the U.S. including the New Jersey State Police, Los Angeles City Fire Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In its submission to the board, the State Police said it needed the additional funds because it was unable to inspect and test an exact copy of the model helicopter produced by AgustaWestland, which already met the state’s “unique and rigorous requirements” for Medevac missions.
“…as the first helicopter unit made its way through the early stages of production and the fit-out cycle, the State looked for opportunities to customize certain limited medical interior and exterior features and capabilities offered by the AW139 to better meet these multi-mission roles, enhance safety, and optimize operational efficiencies.”