According to a report by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper, the aircraft, worth US$3.4 million at time of purchase, has been sitting unused in a hangar in the Hilltop neighborhood due to a lack of necessary equipment. The aircraft reportedly lacks searchlights, computer mapping, infrared cameras, and avionics.
The news comes despite the city council’s approval in November 2021 of a US$671,000 upgrade to equip the helicopter with the required technology.
The lack of equipment is reportedly due to a decision by the city council to change aircraft manufacturers for the new helicopter. The Columbus Division of Police has flown McDonnell Douglas helicopters, most recently a fleet of MD530F helicopters acquired in 1996, and typically transferred technology from old aircraft to new ones when helicopters were replaced. However, with the decision to switch to a Bell helicopter, this was not possible.
Alongside the sale of the existing helicopter, the planned purchase of further Bell helicopters has been cancelled in favor of using the $2 million of funds previously allocated to their purchase, now being reassigned to improve electronics on the existing MD530F fleet.
Columbus police had previously planned to acquire a second Bell helicopter this year, which would have phased out one of the remaining four MD530F helicopters, with more Bells scheduled to be purchased every two years until all the old fleet was phased out.
The decision to sell the helicopter comes as opposition to their use continues to grow in the city, with noise, cost, intrusiveness, and concerns about police militarization being common complaints.