TOPEKA — The Kansas Highway Patrol requested the Kansas Legislature allocate $11 million for two new helicopters and $4.8 million for a new airplane to replace aging equipment and meet rising demand for assistance from law enforcement agencies statewide.
The pitch to a House budget committee Tuesday indicated KHP was proposing purchase of a pair of Airbus H125 helicopters for $5.5 million each and to acquire a Cessna C208 Caravan EX for $4.8 million.
In addition, the agency proposed devoting $650,000 to upgrade the FLIR observation camera on an existing 2012 Cessna 206. Changes to KHP's fleet will necessitate an increase of $1.3 million annually in operational funding, KHP officials said.
"We're the sole provider of airborne law enforcement in the state. So, when the call comes in, we are it. In the past it was traffic enforcement. Those days are few and far between. We're always getting called to the manhunt, the car chase, the surveillance," said KHP Capt. Jason Vanderweide, who commands the aviation operations for KHP.
"It's not just a Highway Patrol issue," he said. "We're assisting over 100 different agencies every year. We are their call. When serious incidents happen, we're one of the first calls. They rely on us."
Vanderweide said new helicopters would be stationed in Topeka and Wichita to cover the central and eastern portions of the state. The new Caravan aircraft would be based in Hays to serve the western one-third of Kansas, he said. In addition, 2012 single-wing airplanes would be located at Topeka and Wichita.
To mitigate the overall cost of the aviation transition, KHP said it would trade in a helicopter and two airplanes valued at about $2 million. The overall package, including operating expenditures, would be $16.4 million.
"This is a big expenditure for this committee. It's new spending," said Rep. Shannon Francis, a Republican from Liberal who chairs the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee.
Vanderweide said the strategy was to keep the pair of 2012 aircraft for several years, while trading away a 2005 helicopter and airplanes manufactured in 1998 and 1978.
He said the camera in one of the KHP aircraft failed three times while helping to track a shooting suspect in Ellis County in 2019.
"We've got the suspect in sight," Vanderweide said. "He's outside still shooting. Units can't get close, and our clear camera fails three times. We have to restart it. We acquire the suspect again. It fails again, very frustrating for the crew."