Councillors showed little interest Thursday in buying a $7.2-million twin-engined helicopter to replace aging Air 2, which Mayor Don Iveson called “the Cadillac option.”
But there was support for Coun. Dave Loken’s suggestion to spend about $4.1 million on a smaller single-engine AS-350, similar to equipment used by the RCMP.
“It’s a compromise motion. I thought it important to have something,” Loken said.
“I didn’t want to see the choppers go by the wayside in this budget, because then we’re waiting four more years.”
But with Air 1 also nearing the end of its useful life, Loken wants to know if it makes sense to buy a second helicopter immediately rather than waiting five years.
Iveson likes the idea.
“For that price, we can replace both choppers for less than the cost of the big, heavy twin-engined one, which really at this point I don’t see a case for.”
Police expect to earn about $1 million selling Air 2, while older Air 1 has little market value.
The city might save money by sharing training, maintenance and space with Mounties at the Edmonton International Airport, Police Chief Rod Knecht said.
Twin-engined machines can stay in the air longer and provide more services, important factors for a fleet based at the Villeneuve airport, he said.
While Knecht said helicopters are a crucial police tool, he can live with the single-engine version.
“I understand money is tight and city council has a lot of priorities,” he said.
“The twin is the best option if you look long-term and consider everything, but I understand there are immediate needs.”
Helicopters have only been involved in 3,000 arrests since they were introduced in 2001, but generally handle serious incidents such as high-speed chases, he said.
If nothing happens, local police will be out of the air by the end of the decade, Knecht said.
But helicopters aren’t the only item on the police 2015-18 shopping list.
Other priorities include $17.2 million to add cells for a detention unit at the new northwest police facility and $10 million toward a provincial radio system.
Voting on these proposals and the rest of the city’s four-year capital budget for construction and equipment will start Monday.