ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo soon may be flying above the skies of New York in a state-of-the art helicopter that is faster, larger and quieter than his current State Police-supplied helicopter.
The State Police is working on a final contract to purchase a slightly used Sikorsky S76-D for $12.5 million, which also includes training for five agency pilots.
The new helicopter will not be exclusively for Cuomo’s use.
“The Sikorsky will be part of the fleet and like our other aircraft, it will be available for missions as needed, including law enforcement support, search and rescue, medevac and executive transport,’’ said State Police spokesman Beau Duffy.
A copy of the purchase contract was not provided because it has not yet been finalized, state officials said.
The deal needs the approval of both Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Cuomo uses a State Police helicopter – a Bell 430 – on short hops lasting up to an hour or so. A twin-engine State Police airplane gives Cuomo a lift on his longer trips, such as from White Plains airport near his home to Buffalo or Rochester.
The new, twin-engine Sikorsky has a longer range – up to about 472 nautical miles without reserves – than the Bell by more than 100 nautical miles. It has a has a maximum cruising speed of 178 miles per hour, according to Sikorsky, which is nearly 20 miles per hour faster than the Bell.
The Sikorsky is also larger. The Connecticut-based helicopter company’s website says it can be designed to carry up to 10 passengers.
A Cuomo spokesman said it is the State Police that determines which aircraft the governor uses. "At the discretion of the state police, various helicopters of various ages from their fleet are used for transport depending on their circumstances. To be crystal clear, no one helicopter has been or will be assigned for this task and, besides his motorcycle, there is no such thing as a governor's chopper,'' said Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman.
The State Police says the 2015 Sikorsky being purchased – the agency has not yet taken possession of the helicopter – has been flown about 335 hours. As used, the $12.5 million purchase price represents a savings, the agency said, as a new S76-D had been purchased for its price of $16.4 million. The seller is Sikorsky.
The State Police said it has not bought a new helicopter since 2002 and that it had to take one of its helicopters, a Bell 407, out of service four years ago following a crash landing that occurred near a highway in Steuben County. The new Sikorsky is a replacement for the helicopter involved in that incident.
The agency noted the Legislature and Cuomo approved funding for a helicopter purchase in the 2013 state budget.
“This state-of-the-art model is capable of fulfilling all State Police aviation-mandated missions, ensure faster responses to emergency situations that require longer flights and support Troopers and other state, county and local law enforcement agencies,’’ Duffy said in an email response.
A State Police request to begin pilot training at a Sikorsky-related facility in West Palm Beach was rejected in August by the state comptroller, according to documents obtained last month from DiNapoli’s office through a Freedom of Information request. The comptroller’s office said the training request was “premature” because the helicopter had not yet been purchased.
Officials say the new contract, when finalized, will include both the helicopter and training as part of the $12.5 million purchase price.
Sikorsky says its S76-D “combines the flexibility and agility of a helicopter with the comfort, safety and quietness of an airliner.’’ It says its cabin is “whisper-quiet acoustically enhanced environment.’’ The model is used by corporate executives, search-and-rescue crews, the Japanese Coast Guard and companies ferrying workers to offshore oil rigs.
Like other governors before him, Cuomo can use part of the State Police fleet to get him around the geographically large state to attend speeches, ribbon cuttings, funerals, natural disasters and other events.
In March, the most recent month of the governor’s public schedule available on his web site, Cuomo used the state airplane for a total of seven flights.
A state helicopter was used for 12 flights, such as a 20-minute flight the March 7 from the White Plains airport near his home to an airport on Long Island for an event.
On one occasion that month, he used the helicopter to take him for a 35-minute flight from Albany to White Plains “to end his day.’’
The State Police has not purchased a helicopter since the administration of former Gov. George Pataki. In 2001 and 2002, his administration OK'd buying four of the Bell helicopters, which at the time had a price tag of $5 million apiece.