American Eurocopter has lodged a protest concerning the Maryland State Police’s (MSP) request for proposal (RFP) to replace its fleet of 11 aging AS 365Ns. Eurocopter asserts that the RFP was designed to favor the AgustaWestland AW139. Eurocopter had proposed refurbishment, rather than replacement, of the Maryland fleet along the lines of what it has done for the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet of HH-65s. In its protest, American Eurocopter maintained the RFP “systematically eliminates all competitors except for one aircraft and therefore has the effect of creating a sole-source procurement.”
The Maryland Legislature has already authorized $50 million for the MSP to acquire two new helicopters next year. Replacing the entire fleet could cost more than $250 million, including spares, training and support. While the state police aviation unit enjoys broad bipartisan support in the legislature, word that the MSP was looking at the AW139 also drew criticism from both sides of the aisle.
State Sen. John Astle (D-Annapolis) questioned the AW139’s suitability for scene work given its 45-foot-diameter main rotor disc. He also wondered about the ability of elevated hospital helipads to accommodate the helicopter’s 14,110-pound max weight, up to 5,000 pounds more than that of the AS 365.
Delegate Patrick McDonough (R-Middlesex) was more blunt in his criticism, calling the AW139 a “bus.” Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), an emergency medicine physician who also serves as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s joint committee on healthcare delivery and financing, questioned whether the MSP needed such a large fleet given that its medical transports are down 50 percent from last year.
The reduction in flight hours occurred after more stringent patient triage protocols were adopted in the wake of the fatal crash of a state police helicopter last year that killed four of the five on board. Morhaim said that some of the funds for the MSP helicopter program might be better spent in support of community health facilities hard-hit by budget cuts. Astle also pointed out that this might not be the best time for Maryland to spend money on new helicopters. “Here we are, three months into our fiscal year, and the governor has already announced that we will need to make $1 billion in additional [state budget] cuts.”
However, efforts within the legislature to curb the MSP helicopter unit have met with swift and resounding defeat. A proposal–authored by Astle and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne’s)–to have private companies take over medevac missions (leaving the state police to fly law enforcement missions) died in committee.
MSP helicopter unit commander Maj. A.J. McAndrew told AIN that no decision had been made on a replacement helicopter but said he hoped to do so by year-end.
Astle said the timing will make any kind of legislative challenge difficult as the legislature will not reconvene until January, although he said he expects at least one losing bidder to mount a legal challenge to any contract award.
Depending on the manufacturer selected, McAndrew said he expects the first new helicopter to be delivered within two years. Beyond that he declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the bidding process.