Air-1 struggles to fly in wake of budget cuts

The day after Onondaga County lawmakers did away with public funding for Air-1, Sheriff Kevin Walsh says he will try to find a way to keep the department's helicopter flying.

On Tuesday night, lawmakers cut out all money for the helicopter when they enacted the 2012 Onondaga County budget. It means the Sheriff's Department will have to find other ways to pay for the $600 thousand annual cost for Air-1 and its four pilots. Walsh is depending upon private fund raising through the not for profit "Air-1 Foundation" which he created in July. He's also seeking permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin charging outside police agencies for the services of Air-1, along with billing insurance companies when the helicopter transports patients to local hospitals.

Though Air-1 will be competing with the privately owned Mercy Flight for those patient transports, Walsh expects the helicopter will be able to transport many more patients than the 28 it handled last year. He says officials at Upstate Medical Center told him that there were 350 patients that were taken by ambulances to its emergency department last year, who should have been airlifted to the hospital. He also expects to be able to bill insurance companies the same amount that Mercy Flight charges which averages $12,500 per medevac flight.

That income will be supplemented by fund raising efforts through the Air-1 Foundation which currently has $10 thousand in the bank. On Friday night, the Air-1 Foundation will sponsor a comedy show at the Pensabene Casa Grande banquet hall on State Fair Boulevard in the City of Syracuse.

While the Sheriff says Air-1 will continue to fly through the end of the year, he expects to go back to the legislature for additional funding after new legislators take office in January.