Helo Waste

From my home high atop palatial Arlington Ridge, a stone’s throw from the Pentagon, and my office a few miles away in the Edsall Park area of Fairfax County, I daily watch a parade of military helicopters — Blackhawks, Hueys and Chinooks, along with the occasional Osprey, fly by. Some will land at or depart from the Pentagon, others I know not where they go or from whence they came. There are a number of military installations to the south of where I live and work.

They follow I-395 and I-95 at least to Springfield. If these birds are flying to, say, Ft. Belvoir or Quantico, it brings up the question – why don’t the passengers drive to these places if they are coming from the Pentagon? They are only a few miles further south, well within 20 miles of the Pentagon. Yes, it is faster to fly and avoid the traffic but there is a cost involved.

I also think some of this traffic is Congressional and VIP in nature since Ft. Belvoir is the home of the 12th Aviation Battalion, which “provides rotary-wing movement to the DoD and Congress,” according to Wikipedia. Ahem.

The aircraft I speak of aren’t cheap. It can cost several thousand dollars an hour to keep one of them in the air; especially when you factor in the maintenance costs. Helicopters are high maintenance. They have to be overhauled after every few hundred hours in the air.

On a given day I might see half-a-dozen fly by. Not long ago three Ospreys flew by my office. Very impressive, looked like something out of a movie, but the amount of money those birds were consuming isn’t chicken feed. (Though I have to admit that I don’t think the Ospreys are putting down at the Pentagon so it might be a longer trip.)

Do these people really need to get wherever they are going that quickly?

And even if these trips are longer range than I think, in these days of digital communications and videoconferencing technologies, do all of these people shuttling around need to be attending in-person?

We could save some money here. Probably not millions but almost certainly six figures. Or, maybe across the U.S. it would add up to millions of dollars saved. Shouldn’t an expensive luxury like a helicopter flight be reserved for emergencies, high priorities and battlefields?

Liberals cluck that such meager savings aren’t worth the effort. Even a few conservatives such as Ramesh Ponnuru have made the same argument (though he makes it for another reason). But I challenge them to write that six-figure check. It might not be millions but the several thousand dollars I paid in federal taxes last year are likely consumed in a single day of these helo flights. How many taxpayers does it take to keep these air limos flying, 24/7, 365 days a year?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…

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