San Jose’s police helicopter holds the dubious distinction of being the oldest of its kind in the nation. The 16-year-old Air2 EC-120B, which San Jose Inside accompanied officers in during a high-speed chase, is a decade past its useful lifespan, according to police Chief Eddie Garcia, who’s looking to buy a $4.7 million replacement.
The San Jose Police Department already has $3.13 million set aside—most of it from asset forfeiture, that is, property seized during criminal investigations. Garcia’s proposal, which comes before the City Council on Tuesday, asks the Budget Office to figure out how to come up with the remaining $1.59 million.
Since the city bought its Air2, the helicopter has undergone several engine overhauls to keep it operational. By SJPD’s estimate, its “eye in the sky” has only 500 flight hours or about a month to go before it needs yet another mechanical overhaul.
“The funding for the engine overhaul has been previously set aside in asset forfeiture funds,” Garcia wrote in a memo to the council, “however, as the helicopter continues to age the potential for unanticipated grounding due to maintenance issues increases dramatically. Due to the age of the helicopter and the increased costs associated with maintenance, it is recommended that Air2 be replaced.”
With the Air2’s tuckering out, SJPD will cut its flight schedule to make it last as long as possible, or until the city buys a successor. If needed, San Jose can borrow helicopters from the California Highway Patrol or the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. But helicopters from other agencies aren’t always available when needed.
One of the replacement options SJPD is looking at is one of the most common single-engine helicopters in U.S. law enforcement, Garcia said.
The Airbus HI25 comes with upgraded power and lift capacity and longer flight times. It’s also able to provide more power with less fuel. While the current helicopter can carry only one passenger (or two, if absolutely necessary), the HI25 handles up to four in addition to the pilot and co-pilot.
In his memo, Garcia also suggested creating a reserve fund for future aircraft, which could start with the $100,000 in potential proceeds from the Air2’s sale.