Breaking down the costs of the Nebraska State Patrol’s new helicopter, aviation division

NSP’s aviation division can be seen flying above the city watching for speeders, monitoring traffic during Husker Football games and responding to emergencies.
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 5:43 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Nebraska State Patrol’s aviation division can be seen flying above the city watching for speeders, monitoring traffic during Husker Football games and responding to emergencies across the state.

Between five aircraft, completing more than 500 missions so far this year.

For the last six weeks or so, some of those missions have been done by NSP’s first new aircraft in a dozen years, a Bell 505, which cost the patrol about $1.9 million. But Col. John Bolduc said the expenditure, is actually an effort to save money long term.

“That’s not lost on us that running an aircraft division is very expensive, especially recently with fuel costs increasing and new aircraft are very expensive,” Bolduc said. “So we have to make sure we’re spending our tax dollars wisely. The implementation of the new Bell 505 will help us actually extend the life of the Bell 407 which we’ve had for over a dozen years.”

Pilot Lt. Brian Petersen said Bell 505 is smaller and more fuel efficient.

“It allows for more economical routine patrolling over the metropolitans,” Petersen said. “To allow us to be up here more often so we can respond to police and fire department incidents.”

10/11 NOW requested data showing how much the aviation division costs the state for the last five years. This year, the division was budgeted for $1.9 million. This is significantly higher than in previous years because of the costs of the new helicopter. On average, the aviation unit costs $756,000 a year. This makes up an average of 1% of the Nebraska State Patrol’s budget, which was nearly $97 million this year. For more context, the patrol said they typically spend more on purchasing vehicles annually than on the aviation division.

Col. Bolduc said the aviation division makes up for costs by being useful in so many scenarios. Especially this year, when the patrol is 74 troopers short, the highest number of vacancies in years.

“That’s the same with other agencies. So if we can help them by being a eye in the sky I am providing resources that will back them up,” Col. Bolduc said.

A great example of this is the missions the pilots fly on Husker Football games. 10/11 NOW rode along with the patrol for the last home game of the season to see how it works.

Lt. Petersen and Trooper Barry Hinkle flew over I-80 and I-180 between Waverly and Lincoln, watching traffic roll into the city.

“We don’t have to have as many people on the ground watching high traffic areas because we can do that from the air and we can do that from a long ways away,” Lt. Petersen said.

The pilots said if they spot traffic backing up at an intersection or an accident they can quickly divert resources to that area.

“We’re trying to get resources there to avoid accidents,” Col. Bolduc said.

Col. Bolduc said the aviation units are also essential during speed enforcements and eliminates the need to engage in risky high speed pursuits.

“We’ve found we can follow them in the helicopter and eventually follow t hem to a gas station or to their home and we can actually take enforcement action in a much safer environment” Col. Bolduc.

So far in 2022, the aviation unit has taken about 530 trips between the two helicopters and three fixed-wing planes. Lt. Petersen said that’s pretty average for a year, if not a little low. Those numbers break down to the average cost of a flight being $1,400, including the cost of the aircraft, fuel and equipment needed.

But Lt. Petersen said the value they provide couldn’t be replaced by something cheaper.

“We were instrumental with the floods, in natural disasters occurring across the state with fires, tornadoes,” Lt. Petersen said. “We’ve been on the ground locating missing Alzheimer’s patients, we’ve picked them up and taken them to a medical facilities where they’re hypothermic. So it’s really difficult to place a dollar on a value item or piece of equipment when you’re doing something that’s directly involved in saving lives.”