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NC Officials Shopping Around for Helicopter

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RALEIGH — State leaders are in the market for a new helicopter, but now they're shopping around. WRAL first reported on the fact that state leaders were ready to purchase the most expensive helicopter around without a bidding process. After those reports aired, Governor James Hunt ordered that the purchase be put on hold.

Monday, the invitation for bids went out for the new helicopter. The Department of Commerce wants a new chopper to transport business leaders across the state in an effort to attract new industry to North Carolina. They originally wanted the biggest and the most expensive helicopter on the market, but had come to that decision without looking at others. Only one company made the one they wanted.

Before WRAL's reports, the North Carolina Department of Commerce was set to spend your tax dollars on a $7 million Sikorsky S-76 C+ helicopter, even though a similar helicopter, the Bell 430, was selling for just $4.8 million.

The original specifications were so strict that only the most expensive Sikorsky could possibly qualify. Now, a bidding process has started with specifications that the Bell 430 might fit as well. State Purchasing Director John Leaston says the state wants competition in the bidding.

Representative Billy Creech has been pushing for the purchase of a Sikorsky.

A Sikorsky lobbyist took Creech to dinner just days before he wrote a recommendation letter to the Secretary of Commerce recommending a Sikorsky purhcase. Creech says there was nothing shady going on.

The difference now is, Bell Helicopters has an opportunity to sell as well, according to Leaston.

The bidding process closes on March 19th. Sikorsky and Bell representatives say they will be reviewing the new specifications.