By STACY ANN JONES
ANNAPOLIS (October 20, 2010)The Maryland Board of Public Works unanimously approved a $72 million contract with Agusta Aerospace Corp. to add six new medevac helicopters to the state's aging fleet.
Two AW139 copters at $11.7 million each will be added in the next 18 months, and four more will arrive within the next two years. The contract includes an option to purchase up to six more aircraft at the same price between July 2011 and July 2013.
Comptroller Peter Franchot expressed concerns with the procurement process, but said he supports enhancing the state's emergency medical fleet.
"It's a mystery to me why we only wound up with one bid," Franchot said. "The public is never going to know if we got the best deal. Who knows what we could have done with more bids."
Despite his unease with the bidding process, Franchot said the contract will pay for itself each time a life is saved.
Franchot joined Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp in voting for the contract.
In July 2008, the state sent out requests for information with detailed needs to four major helicopter manufacturers. Pressure to update the fleet increased a few months after the request.
The fleet's oldest Dauphin helicopter crashed near Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 28, 2008, killing four people and leaving the state with only 11 emergency safety copters. One of the two patients being transported to the hospital died in the crash.
"We never know when it might be our daughter, wife or husband who is being pulled from a wreck," O'Malley said.
When bids were solicited in June 2009, one was received from Agusta, an Italian company with a plant in Philadelphia.
After two weeks, American Eurocopter, which built the state's Dauphin copters, filed a protest about the state's request. The French company, which has offices in Texas, complained that bidding rules unfairly excluded its plans to refurbish the state's fleet of Dauphins.
The protest was denied a year later and the company did not appeal.
"We can refurbish these Dauphins. We can make this more economical," Dick Johnson of Catonsville told the board. He said he's been researching helicopters for at least a decade and thinks the state doesn't need to spend this much money to update the fleet.
Capt. Mark Gibbons, head of the Maryland State Police Aviation Command, said the company's bid beats New Jersey's purchase of similar helicopters last year by $1.6 million. He added that the U.S. Coast Guard might be interested in buying and refurbishing the state's old Dauphin models.
In other business, the board voted to postpone for two weeks discussion of a network that would allow police, fire and EMS personnel to communicate with one another during an emergency. Local, state and federal agencies currently operate on different radio frequencies. O'Malley said at a press conference after the meeting that streamlining communications will save money while expediting emergency services for citizens.
Maryland State Police Aviation Command's Fallen Heroes: http://www.mspaviation.org/hero.asp
Agusta Aerospace Corporation: http://www.agustawestland.com/content/agusta-aerospace-corporation