If you’re an aviation enthusiast, you don’t have to travel to the airport to indulge your passion. All that’s necessary is to spend some time in Hyde Park and Woodhouse. For as well as lying under the flight path for Yeadon Airport, there’s a very good chance you’ll get to see the police helicopter – no matter what time of the day or night. And not only will you get to see the helicopter, you’ll also get the chance to hear it. In fact, you’re far more likely to hear it than you are to see it. Anyone who’s had it hover over their home for prolonged periods in the early hours of the morning will testify to that.
I wonder if anyone at West Yorkshire Police has ever weighed the cost of such aircraft against their benefits i.e has any cost benefit analysis been carried out to determine whether we’re getting value for money. One of the costs taken into account by cost benefit analysis is the “opportunity cost”. In the case of a police helicopter, the opportunity cost might be the number of policemen you could have instead of the helicopter. To work this out, all you need to know is the annual cost of running the helicopter, and a policeman’s salary. You then divide the running cost by the salary figure to determine how many bobbies on the beat the helicopter is costing us. According to West Yorkshire Police, the helicopter they use is an MD902 Explorer, and it’s in the air annually for 1,400 hours. According to consultants Conklin & de Dekker one of these helicopters has a variable operating cost per hour of $919 (£576). That means the helicopter has an annual variable operating cost of £806,400. To arrive at the helicopter’s total cost, you’d add on fixed costs such as the salary of the three man crew. This could be around £90,000 assuming the helicopter is manned by three constables earning £30,000, but it’s likely to be much more. So if the helicopter’s annual operating cost is £900,000, that would mean that instead of the helicopter, we could have 30 experienced police constables earning £30,000 per year, 39 new recruits earning £23,000 per year, or 56 PCSO recruits earning £16,000 per year.
In a letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post published earlier this year, Lib Dem councillor Martin Hamilton said that banning barbeques would divert the police away from other priorities. If spending just short of £1 million every year to keep a helicopter in the air is a police priority, then some people might say it’s time their priorities were re-evaluated.
West Yorkshire Police helicopter operating details
Conklin & de Dekker helicopter variable operating costs
Police pay scales
(Photo courtesy of Ulleskelf)