It turns out that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been operating two Sikorsky S-76 helicopters mostly for “security” at a cost to taxpayers of $4 million per year (nj.com story). Most of the 258 annual flights were weekday flyovers of airports to look for unusual activity (aero-news.net; the implication is that terrorists could do whatever they liked on weekends). If we assume that each flight was for one hour (more than enough time to visit all NY-area airports) and hug the docks), that’s a cost of $15,500 per flight hour.
The S-76 was designed for flights of 200 nautical miles through clouds, e.g., getting 12 oil rig crewmembers out across the North Sea. No private company would consider using a $10+ million S-76 for flying short trips in clear weather with just one or two passengers. Aside from the crushing capital and operating costs, the S-76 is notorious for poor visibility compared to simpler cheaper helicopters.
The operation is being shut down because it turns out that the flights have no value at all. So it is kind of an academic exercise to wonder how much it would have cost if they’d used a Robinson R44, which would have offered superior visibility and more than adequate performance to carry two observers (one on either side) plus a pilot. Nonetheless, let’s run the numbers. Various local flight schools would have been delighted to rent out an R44, with pilot, for $400 per hour (East Coast Aero Club charges $379/hour). So the mission could have been accomplished for approximately 2.4 percent of the cost that the government agency actually spent, resulting in saving approximately $4 million per year in operating costs and $12 million in capital expense.
This may be part of the problem with government stimulus. The government spends 40X more than it needs to in order to accomplish a task in an inferior manner (in this case using the wrong helicopter for the job).