UPDATE: Broker will receive $70,000 more for sale of Travis County STAR Flight helicopters


UPDATE published Jan. 22, 11:54 a.m.

Travis County Commissioners, with County Judge Sarah Eckhardt absent, voted to pay an aircraft broker about $70,000 more than originally contracted for selling the county’s STAR Flight helicopters.

The change is in response to a months-long delay in receiving the new, replacement aircraft.

Jim Kettles, owner of Portlock Aviation, addressed commissioners prior to the vote.

“Portlock should not be penalized for a delay it did not cause,” Kettles said. “The original timeline has more than doubled […] and the delivery date is still indefinite.”

UPDATE published Jan. 18, 5:03 p.m.

Travis County Commissioners could vote to amend a contract with brokerage firm Portlock Aviation on Jan. 22.

Portlock Aviation was contracted by the county in April 2018 to broker the sale of its aging STAR Flight helicopter fleet.

Portlock’s original commission—set at 2.5 percent—reflected an expectation that the sales would occur between November 2018 and January 2019, according to county documents.

However, due to delays with the aircraft vendor responsible for providing new helicopters, the process is now expected to be complete in May, more than a year after the Portlock contract was signed.

The amended contract—if approved by commissioners next week—would raise Portlock’s commission to 3 percent, approximately an additional $70,000, if the helicopters are sold at current, expected prices.

ORIGINAL STORY published Jan. 15, 5:45 p.m.

The sale of Travis County’s STAR Flight helicopters might secure the county millions more than initially anticipated.

In October 2017, when County Commissioners approved a $33.5 million purchase of three new helicopters, the anticipated trade-in value for three of four current aircraft hovered around $8.9 million.

Through a deal brokered by Portlock Aviation, the county may receive closer to $14.1 million for all four aging helicopters.

Travis County STAR Flight currently owns three Airbus EC145 helicopters–two of which are 12 years old and the third is 9 years old–and a rebuilt Vietnam War helicopter, said Chuck Brotherton, Travis County Executive for Emergency Services.

On Jan. 15, commissioners voted to preliminarily accept an offer from REACH Air Medical to purchase the aircraft along with spare parts and support equipment.

“By selling our current STAR Flight fleet of older helicopters and leveraging their value, Travis County will be able to purchase a modernized fleet that is faster, can travel further, and carry a larger payload,” Brotherton said in an emailed statement to Community Impact Newspaper.

The new fleet will include three Leonardo–Agusta-Westland–AW169 helicopters, Brotherton said. The county expects to receive the new aircraft in April 2019.

County commissioners stressed the importance of receiving the new aircraft before fire season begins. Traditionally, fire season in Central Texas coincides with dry summers and excessive heat, Brotherton said.

With the action taken Tuesday, Portlock Aviation will proceed with the sale and purchase agreements between the county and REACH.

The old aircraft will not be released until the new fleet arrives, Brotherton said.

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  1. What? They’re selling of MY old Vietnam Huey?
    It looks so much better now than it did after we crashed on a mountaintop overlooking the A Shau Valley in 1969.
    I’ll have to keep informed on where it goes.

    As all us old Vietnam guys will tell you, “There’s nothing like a Huey”

  2. The UH-1H was acquired in 2013 after the Bastrop fires and only serves in a fire-fighting capacity. 12 year old EC-145 helicopters are not exactly old; I worked on 30+ year old helicopters in the Marines and they were nearly 40 years old before they were finally retired. The Airbus EC-145’s are actually very good aircraft that the US Army has been very happy with in the UH-72 which are built in Mississippi. The award was heated and the County wanted the new Italian AW169’s from the beginning, even if the acquisition cost the taxpayers more.

    • The issues with the EC-145 are that it can only transport one patient at a time. While it’s very rare to need to take two patients, it does happen on occasion. The other issue, and the most important, is the 145 has to use a bambi-bucket for aerial firefighting. The buckets don’t have much water capacity and can be difficult to fly with. The new helicopters will utilize belly mounted tanks that can be carried year round. The greater range is another plus. That being said, I think they would have been better off buying the Bell 412. The 412 fills the roll of EMS (with 2 patients if needed), fills the firefighting roll and fills the roll of wildland fire crew transport. There’s a reason why the 412’s are heavily used in fire prone areas like Southern California.

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Taylor Jackson Buchanan
Taylor Jackson Buchanan is the editor for the Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She has a bachelor's and master's degree from The University of Texas.
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