New Dare EMS helicopter will cost $9.1 million

By on October 4, 2011

Dare MedFlight air ambulance. (Dare County)

A new EMS helicopter is the big ticket item in a five-year capital spending plan approved by Dare County commissioners.

The plan calls for buying the chopper late in 2013 at a cost of $9.1 million and paying for it over 10 years, Finance Director David Clawson told the Board of Commissioners Monday.

Keeping the old helicopter, which went into service for Dare County in 1990, would cost $300,000 to $400,000 annually for maintenance, Clawson said.

Trading it in for $1.5 million would cut the amount the county would need to finance to $7.6 million. Annual payments starting in 2014 at $945,000 would also be reduced if the county billed Medicare and private insurance for the cost of flights.

Clawson’s figures show that a fee-based service starting in 2014 would bring in a conservative estimate of $1 million a year. Tighter Federal Aviation Administration standards would mean about $675,000 extra in annual maintenance expenses, but that would still leave a net of $375,000 a year to help pay off the debt.

A smaller model would cost about $1 million less, but commissioners said that the helicopter proved invaluable after Hurricane Irene and that the county might want to consider a larger, multi-purpose aircraft.

County Manager Bobby Outten said that three models of helicopters were considered. The one in the budget is slightly larger than the current MedFlight.

With Hatteras Island’s only land route, N.C. 12, cut off by multiple breaches after Hurricane Irene in late August, the helicopter has been pressed into extra service.

“We’ve used our helicopter to ferry things that we can ferry — vaccine, tetanus vaccine, EMS people, staff as we needed, whatever we needed to do,” Outten said. “But we have a limited capability because it’s a small helicopter.”

Outten said, however, that it is not clear yet whether a multi-mission helicopter would be worth the additional money.

Commissioner Max Dutton asked if it would be worthwhile to keep the old helicopter as a backup. The question is how much keeping the old helicopter on standby would reduce maintenance costs or if the tighter FAA standard for a fee-based service would mean even higher repair costs.

The capital improvement budget includes spending for construction, building repairs and equipment. It is separate from the operating budget, which is approved annually before July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

A capital reserve fund is set aside exclusively for that use. The bulk of the money comes from the county’s share of land transfer tax revenue and interest earnings on money already in the fund.

In 2012, the county’s share of land transfer tax revenue is projected to be down to about $3 million compared to $9.8 million in 2005. So there is not much available for other projects.

Included in the plan plan are $2.5 million for the Board of Education to continue paying off the debt on school construction over four years and another $675,000 over five years for recurring capital costs for schools.

Only $500,000 of a request from the school board that started at $9.3 million was included in the plan. Of that, $3.6 million would have gone toward an additional classroom at Manteo Elementary School. The rest would have gone toward building renovations such as painting, roofing and HVAC and refurbishing athletic facilities.

About $15.9 million in total spending through 2016 also includes a new skate park for the Fessenden Center, a new cell for the C&D landfill, a new roof and HVAC control system for the jail, replacing a bulldozer at the C&D landfill and replacing a public works excavator.


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October 10, 2011 7:06 am


File a freedom of information request with the dispatch center and get the data for yourself. I think you will find my facts are far more accurate than yours. The data supports my assertions.


October 10, 2011 1:38 am


I dare say my facts are more accurate than yours. Submit a freedom of information letter to dispatch and get the data yourself. The data supports my assertions.


October 9, 2011 12:11 pm

I don’t know what you have been listening to but dare MedFlight has been flying at least six trips a day to get injured and sick people off of Hatteras island since the storm if you still think your scanner is working it obviously isn’t if you want proof ask anyone associated with Dare co EMS or the fire departments south of the bridge who have ha to get up at all hours to establish a safe landing zone. I’m not going to debate on the need for a new one vs keeping the old one but if you make a statement as you did you need proof that what you say is true and I can tell you that your statement is about as far from true as they come


October 8, 2011 5:37 pm

Eastcare has been here flying patients on and off since the storm. It seems to be working well, of course the good old boys at Med Flight are getting paid to sit around in case there is the need for a second helicopter flight while Eastcare is already on one, which I have only heard of that once on my scanner. Like I said in a previous post the hospital probably accounts for 60-70 percent of Medflights calls, let them pick up the cost of a new on or the cost of the service as it is.


October 6, 2011 7:56 pm

Gov. needs to scale down soon dare county is raising taxe
s keep spending dare

J.C. Towler

October 6, 2011 11:38 am

I can tell you from personal experience that when you are lying on the ground going out of your mind from fear and pain, there’s nothing quite so elating as hearing the whop-whop-whop of rotor blades coming to take you somewhere safe.

My wreck didn’t happen to me here, but I think the sentiment is universal.

This area needs the services of a helicopter. What kind, how they pay for it, and all the rest is debatable. But if your time comes and you need to get to the hospital in that golden hour, you are going to be counting minutes, not beans.

Allan 2

October 6, 2011 8:10 am

Maintenance costs?? Why does it cost so much to maintain a sport fishing yacht? Cause if you can buy one, you can pay the premium. Why does marine fuel cost more? Same deal. All that said, the materials used in aircraft are made to higher quality standards and do cost more. And probably regular inspections by FAA licensed tech’s are not cheap. But I agree. That’s pretty expensive.


October 6, 2011 7:11 am

To correct some things said by a previous poster. Dare county does charge for ground ems services. They will not write it off as they have for residents in the past, they cannot. It is illeagle for them to treat two patients one being local one tourist differently, so every bill is handled in the same way. At present they do not charge for Dare Med Flight. If the poster got a bill for an air ambulance he must have flown in another service. If and when Med Flight begins to charge I would assume they would charge somewhere in the 10-20k per flight, which is the going rate in the real world outside the Country of Dare


October 5, 2011 8:24 pm

THE AIR FORCE AN THE ARMY,AN NAVY, Have older equipment than that in the AIR. Lets get real people!

Ray M.

October 5, 2011 7:39 pm

The only way Dare County government knows how to get anything done is to throw money after it, and throw more money than is necessary. It’s the Dare County way. Look at its history. Go back and start with the county jail and go forward. Nothing practical is ever done here. It’s always overkill. Project after project, after project.


October 5, 2011 2:45 pm

As someone whom has used both the medflight and ground ambulance service from Hatteras Island let me correct a couple of statements.
Dare County does charge for every mile that the ground ambulance transports a person. Medflight does charge for every mile.
If your insurance does not pay, as mine doesn’t, I can assure you that Dare County will pursue you for payment even if it means civil action.
Air ambulance service should be performed by a private contractor instead of Dare County. Then let Mr Outten tell a private carrier that they have to carry supplies or personnel instead of performing their contracted service.


October 5, 2011 10:30 am

“Keeping the old helicopter, which went into service for Dare County in 1990, would cost $300,000 to $400,000 annually for maintenance, Clawson said.”

Damn, why does it cost so much to maintain a helicopter?? Parts, labor, are there regulation “fees?” Honestly, if it costs nearly half a million dollars annually to maintain a single helicopter, I am in the wrong profession!


October 5, 2011 9:36 am

We do need a helo in Dare Co. for emergency medical reponses. We don’t need to be using it for transporting anything else.

Nor do we need to be sending DCEMS ambulances and crews on long hauls that are non-emergency transports. That could be contracted out to a private provider, keeping our EMS crews here and us not being short-handed. The same with transporting non-emergency patients to and from Colony Ridge and Spring Arbor. Let a private contractor handle that and they can bill insurance.

A few weeks ago EMS was called to respond to a pedestrian/vehicle accident in Southern Shores. The medic unit dispatched was based in Manns Harbor! Why? Because of units sent out to transport patients to VA or Pitt or Albemarle, leaving us terribly unmanned at home. That should be unacceptable.

Lots of taxpayer money could be saved if we just looked around.


October 5, 2011 8:41 am

Having 2, with one as a back, up is a crazy idea that will waste more money maintaining it while it just sits there doing nothing. Ferrying supplies to Hatteras, via helo, is also a waste of money when from the same airport a private plane could have gone to Billy Mitchell airfield in Buxton for 1/10 the cost of the helo. Someone needs to use some common sense. We might as well by Hummers to replace all the county cars, it makes as much sense. I think keeping the 1986 helicopter going for a few more years is the best answer rather than buying a brand new 9 million dollar one that also requires a lot of yearly maintenance.


October 5, 2011 8:36 am

What????? Please tell me this is a typo. How could 1 classroom cost so much?
“$3.6 million would have gone toward an additional classroom at Manteo Elementary School”


October 5, 2011 8:15 am

The lives that Dare Medflight has saved are immeasurable. I fully support the purchase of a new helicopter; however the helicopter has no business being used for any purpose other than transporting the sick and injured. If the county needs to transport supplies or take officials up for aerial tours, a private helicopter or airplane needs to be chartered. As a taxpayer it has always annoyed me that Dare County hasn’t been billing for all medical transport services. The tax base can only absorb so much.

Allan 2

October 5, 2011 7:39 am

Spend spend spend. THAT’S the AMERICAN WAY!

Ray M.

October 4, 2011 9:05 pm

I agree with John. Why doesn’t Dare County contract the helicopter service out to someone else and let them bill Medicare or the private insurance carrier? Surely, it would cost less than a new helicopter and annual upkeep, plus salaries. Or, is it simply a fact that Dare County cannot go over a year without spending millions of dollars on some kind of capital project? Spend, spend, spend. It’s the Dare County way, isn’t it?


October 4, 2011 8:50 pm

Oh, one other thing. If you want a cargo plane, buy an airplane. Way cheaper initially and for maintenance costs and can carry way more. Med Flight is for medical flights.


October 4, 2011 8:47 pm

Actually, the helicopter is a 1986 model per FAA. To certify that aircraft to billing standards would be difficult to say the least. A newer refurb aircraft could be had for way less than 9 million. As far as continuing to operate as part of the county system is debatable. To bill for transport requires more stringent record keeping and certain safety procedures that the chief pilot would have to implement. Additional staff would have to be hired on as well……The hospital there uses it more than anything. That helicopter should be primary for EMS use, not hospital to hospital unless all other means are exhausted. The helicopter is a great asset, but a very expensive one. The decision to keep it running should be thought about very carefully.


October 4, 2011 6:06 pm

Before we had a hospital a helicopter was an absolute necessity. While it may still needed it does not have to be our helicopter. Has anyone considered paying Eastcare or Nightingale a stipend to provide coverage? The helicopter currently costs the county about a million a year. What about offering another service half a million to put a Helo here and let them charge? When are we going to hire the six missing EMTs that are vacant unfilled positions? The ground
EMS units do several thousand calls a year and Med Flight does 200-300, but it gets all the attention because it is flashy and cool. The ground trucks are understaffed and us where we should be focusing our attention. Once they are running at full capacity then its time to look at the unit that does four percent of the total system calls.


October 4, 2011 3:53 pm

It’s a big ticket item, but well worth having for all the reasons mentioned in the article and then some. Outer Banks Hospital is all well and good for delivering babies, sprained ankles, and extracting rusty fish hooks, but if you’re hurt in a bad way you are going to want the services of our neighbors to the north offer, and fast.

Matthew Byrne

October 4, 2011 3:39 pm


Unless there is a component missing in your write-up concerning the tighter FAA standards…

“Keeping the 1990 helicopter in service would cost $300,000 to $400,000 annually for maintenance, Clawson said.”

$9,100,000 divided by $400,000 = 22.75 years

It’s pretty clear that Dare County needs to wait until the economy improves before even considering such a purchase.


October 4, 2011 2:50 pm

That is a small price to pay to have a Helicopter when you need one. Pitt does not always have a bird that can respond when needed

Becky Broome

October 4, 2011 2:36 pm

I’m sorry but billing Medicare and private insurance companies for part of this helicopter is ridiculous. Spending like this partially what is causing Medicare to be depleated and the cost of insurance for the working people to increase. There was a mandatory evacuation! No one should be left on the island. What part of mandatory do you not understand??

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