County to order new air ambulance next month
Still, it will be two years before the new Eurocopter EC145T2 will go into service after it is ordered in August, said county spokeswoman Dorothy Killingsworth.
In the meantime, Dare MedFlight’s workhorse will continue to shuttle patients with serious illnesses and injuries. The chopper was grounded for scheduled maintenance earlier this year, but it also lost some air hours for repairs to a cracked tail.
Dare has long planned to replace the helicopter and has looked at various options. It was put in the county’s long-range capital improvement plan in October.
“The EC145T2 is a similar, but updated, model of our current helicopter and will require training to get our staff ‘up to speed’ in the operation and maintenance of the new aircraft,” Chief Pilot Larry Mims said in a memo to commissioners. “As a similar updated model of our current helicopter it will easily, and fully, meet our current flight mission needs, including special operations like those missions called for after hurricane Irene.”
As ordered, the chopper will come “green” at $6.8 million, meaning it will have to be equipped for air ambulance service. The County plans to use general obligation bonds to borrow a total of $7.26 million.
The aircraft has range of 356 nautical miles and a fast cruising speed of 134 knots. In its stock configuration, it can carry one or two pilots and up to nine passengers.
Keeping the old helicopter, which went into service for Dare County in 1990, would cost $300,000 to $400,000 annually for maintenance, Finance Director David Clawson said in October.
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, according to figures in the plan.
New figures estimate that the trade-in will not be as much — $1 million — but it will offset the cost of equipping it up for Dare County’s use. A little over $522,000 of that will be for medical retrofitting, with the rest going toward avionics, other items and a 5 percent contingency of $392,348.
A comparison estimated that over 12 years, the county would pay about $700,000 more in annual lease payments than it would to repay debt on buying the helicopter.
Dare also plans to start billing Medicare and other insurance carriers for reimbursement.County figures show that a fee-based service starting in 2014 would bring in an estimated $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.
Commissioners approved a sole-source purchase rather than bidding based on a comparison of six helicopters in the EMS analysis.
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