The Tulare County Sheriff Department’s Aviation Support Unit has new equipment and a new place to call home.
On Wednesday, the unit became fully operational. After a year of rebuilding and purchasing new equipment, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux unveiled the complete unit to the public.
The cost of the unit is estimated at $1.2 million.
The new home of the Aviation Support Unit will be Porterville Airport. The department is paying for two hangers and office space that will house six full-time employees for $850 a month.
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Prior to the move, the department paid roughly $950 for two hangers and a trailer at the Visalia Municipal Airport, Boudreaux said.
Mario Cifuentez, Visalia’s deputy city manager, said that for more than 20 years the sheriff’s department has rented space at the Visalia airport.
Each hanger cost the department roughly $249, Cifuentez said. The agreement is month-to-month and could be terminated at any time.
When a Visalia Times-Delta reporter called Cifuentez on Tuesday, he was unaware the sheriff planned on terminating the contract.
“Visalia was good to us,” Boudreaux said. “We just felt it was a better business decision.”
The planes can reach speeds up to 160 mph and can get from Porterville to Dinuba in a matter of minutes, Boudreaux added.
Dollars and cents
“Pretty much to the taxpayers of Tulare County what you see is roughly $1.2 million worth of aircraft for zero cost,” Boudreaux said. “It was money that we had, it wasn’t money we went and asked for.”
Drones were paid for with grant money from the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and through operational budget savings.
The planes were purchased through insurance money from the 2016 plane crash that killed a deputy and sheriff’s pilot — $600,000 — and operational budget savings.
The department planned on purchasing one plane but the Cessna manufacturer offered a reduced rate on a second plane.
After consulting with pilots, the department purchased a Cessna 182 for $548,006 and a Cessna 206 for $747,717.
Last year, the sheriff purchased a light-weight, fixed-winged aircraft, the same one that pilot James Chavez flew in 2016. The plane had an oil leak that needed extensive work to repair.
Ultimately, Boudreaux decided to return the plane to the company for repairs at no cost to the department and is working with the county to sell the plane, He estimates the department will receive $170,000 from the sale, which will go back to the unit.
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