TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The Kansas Highway Patrol is asking lawmakers for more money this year to update its aging aircraft fleet. The agency maintains a fleet of four planes and one helicopter, ranging from nine to 43 years old.
Cpt. Jason Vanderweide is the supervisor of the KHP Aircraft Unit. He said the unit received a record number of calls for service in 2020. However, Vanderweide said they had to deny a record 194 calls last year, mostly due to equipment failure and maintenance.
“They are out circling, searching for this missing child and their equipment is failing or their airplane is down for maintenance because it’s aging,” Cpt. Vanderweide said. “It’s very frustrating for the crew because they know that they have an opportunity to find this person.”
Vanderweide said they started approaching lawmakers three years ago about this issue. He said they hoped the fleet would be a part of this year’s budget, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shortened the legislative session.
If lawmakers approve the proposal, the money would not be available until the next fiscal year that starts in July. Then, Vanderweide said it takes roughly a year to get an aircraft equipped and delivered.
“That is July of 2022 before these aircraft can even be put to use,” Vanderweide said. “That’s why there’s a definite need to act now so that can doesn’t get kicked farther down the road.”
Along with searching for suspects or missing children, the aircraft unit also provided medical assistance during the pandemic. Vanderweide said the unit helped deliver equipment, tests, and vaccines to hospitals across the state.