Liability dispute grounds state police helicopter for nearly 2 months
Saturday December 25, 2004
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) A liability dispute over a contract involving the repair of an engine part has grounded the state police helicopter for nearly two months.
The dispute was mediated by the state attorney general's office, allowing Trooper One to return to the air this week. But its absence since Nov. 3 was felt.
For example, Hartford police were unable to use the aircraft to search for suspects when detectives were shot at in early December.
The $2 million Bell 407 helicopter that helps fight crime, find missing people and protect the state from terrorism also was unavailable a week later to search for hikers lost in the woods. And it was AWOL last week when an Amber alert was issued in eastern Connecticut for three kidnapped children.
In addition, pilots have been unable to respond to several dozen calls for service from local and state police and have not been able to conduct homeland security patrols of waterways and potential terrorism targets such as bridges and nuclear plants.
Public Safety Commissioner Leonard C. Boyle said a helicopter was borrowed from Massachusetts on one occasion. And fixed wing aircraft have moved into the breach, but they cannot fly as low or hover, authorities say.
The part a fuel unit for the turbine has been at Helicopter Support Inc. in New Haven for a month and a half, awaiting approval from Dawn Hellier, a lawyer for the Department of Public Safety, and lawyers for the engine manufacturer and repair firm.
``The contract has been going back and forth, back and forth,'' said John Arbona, a supervisor for Helicopter Support Inc. ``It all goes to the lawyers and the paperwork gets bogged down.''
The part was a loaner that was to be used until Rolls Royce, which makes the engine, could provide a permanent replacement in January, state police said. But Hellier, lawyers for Rolls Royce and Helicopter Support disagreed over liability issues until two weeks ago when the attorney general's office became involved.
Boyle said an agreement took time because liability issues involving the helicopter are significant. Hellier was concerned that the state could have been exposed to ``significant liability risks'' the way the initial contract was written, he said.
No details on the specific liability issues were immediately available Saturday.
The seven-seat, 41-foot helicopter was purchased by the state in July 2001 and its use for security patrols increased dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Operating the helicopter costs about $150 an hour. During maintenance, it is generally out of use no longer than two or three weeks.
Information from: The Hartford Courant, http://www.ctnow.com/