San Diego plans to spend $21 million over the next five years replacing the Police Department’s aging fleet of four helicopters, which were all bought in 2004 and 2005.
The City Council this week approved a five-year agreement with Airbus Helicopters to immediately buy one helicopter for $4.6 million and purchase three more for $5.5 million each before the deal ends in 2024.
City officials stressed that the council will be required to approve each of the additional helicopter purchases and that the purchases will be based on whether the city has adequate resources at the time.
The plan to replace all four helicopters is based on recommendations from a consulting firm that analyzed the city’s helicopter fleet in 2017.
In a 127-page report, Conklin & de Decker recommended San Diego replace its fleet in phases because that would be smoother operationally and financially than replacing it all at once.
Simply maintaining the existing fleet was dismissed as an option. Each of the city’s police helicopters has logged more than 10,000 flight hours, city officials said.
The tasks they perform include help with foot and vehicle pursuits, searches for missing people, recovery of vehicles, surveillance and “first-at-scene” support during emergencies.
The helicopters the city plans to buy, H125s, are essentially a modernized version of what the city already uses, officials said.
The deal with Airbus includes the company accepting the city’s four aging helicopters as trade-ins. The consultant estimated that each of them is worth $800,000 to $1.2 million.
The new helicopters are similar enough in size and shape that the city plans to continue storing its police helicopters at Montgomery-Gibbs municipal airport in Kearny Mesa.
Two years ago, the council approved upgrading the city’s firefighting helicopters to boost suppression of wildfires.
The city agreed to spend $34 million to buy a cutting-edge firefighting helicopter and build a new hangar at Montgomery-Gibbs to house it. The new helicopter increased the size of the city’s firefighting helicopter fleet from two to three.
In addition to dumping water on wildfires, the new “firehawk” helicopter can conduct hoist‐air rescues, shoreline rescues, swift‐water rescues, night vision goggle operations, patient transports, vehicle rescues, large animal rescues and infrared detection.
Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.