State Police superintendent defends use of helicopters

TRENTON – State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said that from a security standpoint, the governor is safer flying than being driven, getting to the destination “in a more timely and effective manner.”

At an Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee hearing today, Fuentes said they have greater control over the governor’s safety than if they are transporting the governor via ground transportation.

He said governors’ use of the helicopters has never impeded medical transport missions.

If a more emergent mission occurs and the helicopter is needed, the helicopter carrying the chief executive would be diverted, the governor would be transported via ground, and the helicopter would go to the emergent mission.

Chairwoman Annete Quijano, (D-20), called the meeting “as a result of the uproar” of Gov. Chris Christie’s use of the $12.5 million State Police chopper to attend his son’s baseball game in a Bergen County suburb.

She said it’s a recurring issue that has involved several governors, and it was time to review the choppers .

“The taxpayers should know how their money is being spent,” she said.

Fuentes said there have been times where governors have been denied air transport, due to weather, maintenance issues, or more emergent missions.

Executive transports generally cover any state official, Fuentes said. Department commissioners have used them now and then, he said.

The state police aviation bureau has about 10 choppers and they can cost about $900 an hour to operate., There are two pilots operating a helicopter and the bureau has six flight mechanics.

The State Police aviation unit was set up in 1988 to serve primarily as an emergency medical evacuation unit, for homeland security and search and rescues.

The unit has conducted 71,000 missions since 2004.

There are seven homeland security patrols that take place daily, Fuentes said.

The choppers are used by pilots in training to build hours, giving them time to train over critical infrastructure.

  State Police superintendent defends use of helicopters