The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Aero Bureau has inked a purchase agreement with Eurocopter for a dozen new AS350B2 AStars. Part of a fleet upgrade program, the contract includes an option for two additional aircraft. The helicopters will feature a law enforcement package, including night vision goggle (NVG) equipment, video downlink capacity, FLIR cameras, searchlights, aerial mapping/tracking and laser pointing capabilities. The AStars will replace an existing fleet of 12 helicopters of the same type.
Lt. Robert Wheat, operations lieutenant, noted that the LA County Sheriff’s Department undergoes a fleet upgrade at around the half-life of the helicopter—roughly once every seven years. An upgrade to the AS350B3 version was considered, but “it was a substantial amount of money for just a few extras, which wasn’t worth the money for us. We were also looking out for the citizen’s and the county’s money, because we have to be frugal with our funding.” But as far as the base Eurocopter AStar model, the choice was easy: “For what we have to deploy, for our operational goals, it’s the only one to buy, actually,” he said.
Wheat explained the process involved in getting the new helicopters online, while selling the existing 12-ship fleet. “It’s two different projects, one is getting our aircraft into us. Once we take possession of the aircraft from our completions vendor, from that point on it’s going to be one a month. The first one is actually going to be here by the end of September,” he said.
“At the same time, there’s another whole process … to sell the existing aircraft that we have now. So it’s two different processes, one’s not going to affect the other,” Wheat continued. “Right now, we have a timeline of when we’re going to get each aircraft in. [But] the sale of the existing aircraft can be sporadic—it depends on who’s bidding on them and other elements.” He added: “We’re going to sell them off, but we can’t sell anything until the new fleet comes in and we have a certain amount of new helicopters. We still have to maintain our operational goals.” (From September 2010 Rotorcraft Report)