After a protracted and controversial procurement process, the Maryland State Police signed a deal last month to purchase six new AgustaWestland AW139s.
The $71 million agreement includes options for six more and appears to contain substantial discounting. The Maryland Police said they paid $1.6 million less per helicopter than the New Jersey State Police paid one year ago. Maryland is paying $11.7 million per helicopter plus an inflation escalator.
AgustaWestland was the sole bidder for the contract. Other OEMs either declined to bid or objected to the process, claiming the requirements were drawn up specifically for the AW139. American Eurocopter filed a formal protest in 2009, later denied by the state transportation department, claiming that the bid specifications “preordained” the results. Deliveries are to commence in 18 months and the helicopters will be produced at AW’s Philadelphia plant.
Maryland currently operates a fleet of 11 Eurocopter AS365N Dauphins that range in age from 11 to 21 years. The helicopters are scattered at bases throughout the state and used for a variety of missions, including EMS, in a program funded by vehicle registration fees. One helicopter was destroyed in a 2008 crash that subsequently revealed deficiencies in MSP pilot training and maintenance practices.
While Maryland’s helicopter program has widespread public and political support, the selection of the AW139 was controversial because of the helicopter’s size and expense. State Sen. John Astle (D-Annapolis), a former military and EMS pilot, 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 AS365N. Astle said a better course would have been to upgrade the state’s existing fleet, a sentiment echoed by other lawmakers, including Delegate Patrick McDonough (R-Middlesex), who called the AW139 a “bus.”
More than 130 AW139s are currently in service in North America, including those operating with parapublic customers such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service and the Los Angeles Fire Department.