Colorado Paid Pilots and Mechanics $2.3 Million Last Year to Fly an Undelivered Firefighting Aircraft

Colorado Paid Pilots and Mechanics $2.3 Million Last Year to Fly an Undelivered Firefighting Aircraft

For more than a year, Colorado taxpayers have paid for a pilot and mechanic to travel to the state to operate a helicopter that is not yet licensed to fly.

The Firehawk helicopter is a modified Black Hawk helicopter that is intended to be a strong new instrument for fighting wildfires in Colorado. In 2021, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis passed legislation permitting the state to spend $24 million to purchase one. “The new helicopter will join a fleet of emergency response aircraft to get our first responders off the ground sooner, quicker,” Polis stated during a bill signing event in March 2021.

Three years later, nothing has taken off.

The first helicopter was scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2022. That did not happen. Colorado will just gain custody of the Firehawk this week. But it didn’t stop the state from signing a roughly $2.4 million deal with an aviation company to pay a pilot and technician to fly the helicopter throughout last year. A helicopter that could not fly.

“The contract wasn’t easy to get out of, right? Mike Morgan, Director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, stated that the contract was for one year and that pilots and maintenance were required. “There is no pause button on a contract. It was a one-year commitment that we were compelled to complete.”

Morgan stated that delays in aircraft certification, engine recalls, and water tank issues have all added about a year and a half to the project’s timeline.

“It was very frustrating that there were a lot of delays in the process that were beyond our control,” Morgan was quoted as saying. “To be clear, these workers have not been sitting in an office doing nothing. We’ve sent them to schools, simulators, and various other locations.”

The deal with Coulson Aviation began in March 2023. The intention was to begin a few months before the helicopter was delivered. The staff at Coulson would assist the state in launching the helicopter program. “They’re doing us no good sitting in a hangar in Centennial,” said Republican state representative and current congressional candidate Mike Lynch, who sponsored the measure to purchase the helicopter.

“It’s disheartening because we expected this asset to be put to work immediately away. That is a significant amount of money to spend on an asset. “We want it to do its job,” Lynch explained. Republican Sen. Perry Will sponsored the bill in the state Senate. He expects that the aircraft will eventually pay for itself by preventing flames from being as catastrophic.

“What is the cost of extinguishing these fires?” We have fires that have cost several hundred million dollars to fight,” Will explained. “If we don’t have these helicopters, we’re contracting for those helicopters, and that’s expensive as well.”

The state spent $24 million to purchase the first Firehawk aircraft three years ago. Lawmakers were so thrilled about how it may assist firemen fighting wildfires in our area that we paid an additional $26 million in 2023 to purchase a second Firehawk aircraft. Neither of them has flown a single second fighting fire in Colorado.

Years of waiting and millions of dollars later, the Firehawk will take flight for the first time on Tuesday. It will travel to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and will serve as a backdrop for a governor-led function on Wednesday. The first Firehawk should be operational for the summer firefighting season of 2024, with the second expected to arrive in 2025.

“You don’t run down to the local Firehawk dealer and buy a Firehawk helicopter like you would a car and drive it off the parking lot,” Morgan went on to say. “It’s very complex, very complicated.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *