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Onondaga County Sheriff's Department helicopter receives FAA certification

Ellen Abbott/WRVO
Onondaga County's Air One helicopter

A big step towards keeping the Air One Helicopter in the skies of Central New York has been taken. The Onondaga County Sheriff's Department has won the federal approval to charge insurance companies for medical transports.

The FAA has handed the department a Part 135 Commercial Air Carrier Certificate. That piece of paper could add up to almost a third of the $600,000 dollars it costs to keep the embattled copter in the air.  County Sheriff Kevin Walsh says it's been a long road to get to this point.

"We spent all of 2011 working both on getting our foundation set up and getting our fundraising started, and at the same time working to get this 135 certification," said Walsh. "We knew this was crucial in getting keeping our program viable in this community."

Walsh says he's not sure how much money will be brought in by charging insurance companies for emergency flights.

"We haven't had any experience yet in doing the billing portion of this particular kind of operation," he said. "We would hope we can cover 30% of our budget with these kinds of transports. But we'll have to see."

Walsh adds that the county will be getting paid for things it has done all along in Central New York, transporting patients to hospitals in emergency situations. To pay for the rest, a not for profit group is raising cash, and naming rights to the copter are still up in the air.

"There's a marketing value, there's a public relations value, so I think there's a tremendous value for any company that wants to invest in keeping this service viable," he said.

Some county lawmakers have criticized Air One, calling it too expensive. There have also been unsuccessful attempts to try and sell the helicopter, which has been in operation for 36 years in Onondaga and surrounding counties of Central New York.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.