Will new plane fly with county?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Commissioners will vote today on whether or not Sheriff Dennis Meeks can purchase a search and rescue plane for the Covington County Sheriff’s Office.

County Administrator Brenda Petty said that Meeks has informed the commission he plans to purchase the new plane using money from his law enforcement fund, a discretionary fund that can only be used to purchase law enforcement equipment or to fund officer training.

The commission does not have to provide financial backing for the purchase or upkeep, Meeks said Tuesday.

The used $13,000 high-wing plane that Meeks is looking to purchase “is better suited to the department’s needs” than the one currently owned by the CCSO, he said.

“We can do a pre-flight check and get it in the air quicker, too,” he said of the purchase. “The deal isn’t complete until the commission agrees since it has to be titled by the county. The upkeep and maintenance is covered through the sheriff’s office.”

Currently, the CCSO has one plane in its fleet – a Ximango Power Glider, which is housed in a hangar at the South Alabama Regional Airport. The plane was acquired in a 2010 “lateral transfer” from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. No funds were required to obtain the former U.S. Air Force-owned plane.

The aircraft, which is described as lightweight glider with a 58-foot wingspan, flies at low altitudes and low airspeeds and is used for surveillance and search and rescue missions. Meeks said that plane is used primarily for marijuana eradication. It has not been used in any search and rescue missions, as most of those occurred during nighttime hours, Meeks said.

He plans to offer the glider to another law enforcement agency.

In the past, the Andalusia Pilot Club has given financial backing for the plane’s upkeep and maintenance in exchange for use in its Project Lifesaver program, the program that provides clients, who are suffering from brain-related disorders such as dementia, with state-of-the-art wristbands that work by emitting a unique radio signal. That signal can be tracked by the air or on the ground.

However, Meeks said he did not receive Pilot Club funding for the plane’s upkeep this year.

The meeting will be held today at 8 a.m. in the county administration building on Hillcrest Drive.