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Air 1 expected to return to service this month; $105K raised to date for Foundation

Air-1 flies over central New York, but funding cuts has made the Sheriff look elsewhere.

Air-1 flies over central New York, but funding cuts has made the Sheriff look elsewhere.

— To date, just over $105,000 has been raised to help finance the flights by Air 1, the helicopter service provided by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office.

The helicopter was defunded last year by the county legislature, but was left in the budget so that it can still fly. Sheriff Kevin Walsh was given the task to raise $595,000 in 2012 to pay for the year’s expenses associated with the helicopter, which is used for police, fire, rescue and medical missions.

Just about $60,000 has been solicited through the Air-1 Foundation, a not-for-profit created to fund the costs to the county, said John Balloni, the Chief of the Civil and Administrative Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Some of the funds raised through the foundation have come from corporate and private “members” who sponsor Air 1. More than 1,000 individuals and businesses have signed on to support the helicopter.

“We’re reporting progress but we have a long way to go,” Balloni said. “We have every faith that we will get there.”

Balloni says Air 1 has also received a grant from the Drug Enforcement Administration for cannabis eradication, netting $30,000 to continue to fund the helicopter, which flies on numerous police missions.

Additional donations have come from the Cayuga and Oswego County legislatures, resulting in $15,000 in support. Walsh has sent solicitation letters to all surrounding counties, as many of the calls Air 1 flies are outside Onondaga County.

“If we get through this year, we’ve conquered it and we’ll keep the helicopter,” said undersheriff Warren Darby.

Meanwhile, a federally mandated overhaul of Air 1 has left it out of service since March, but it’s expected back to Central New York skies this month, Darby said.

The turbine, or engine, of the helicopter is being rebuilt in Canada. That’s required every 2,500 hours of flight. The frame of the helicopter is being overhauled in Pittsburgh, again a federally mandated regulation. Every nut, bolt and piece on the helicopter is being double-checked to ensure it’s properly functioning, Darby said.

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