State Police Closing Aviation Unit at Montoursville
By Rick Hiduk
The clock is ticking, and time is running out for concerned citizens and elected officials, including state Sen. Gene Yaw, to prevent the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) from closing its aviation unit at Williamsport Regional Airport on Jan. 31. According to PSP press secretary Maria Finn, the reasons for the “internal decision” are purely economical. Yaw counters that the savings will be minimal, as PSP has indicated that neither the fixed-wing aircraft nor the helicopter currently based in Montoursville will be decommissioned, neither will anyone lose his or her job.
Instead, Yaw related, northern counties in his legislative district could suffer the consequences of diminished coverage. The aviation unit is currently only 37.56 miles from Towanda by air. PSP plans to move the helicopter to Hazleton, which is 52.93 miles from Towanda, and the airplane is slated to be moved to Harrisburg, which is 121.21 air miles from Towanda. Both aircraft were used for rescues and flood recovery efforts in September, and it’s reasonable to believe that the airplane would never have been sent to Towanda had it been stationed in Harrisburg, which was also hit hard by flooding.
Montoursville resident Patricia Brewer wrote to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette that the PSP aviation unit was responsible for saving eight lives during the crisis. “If they had to wait an hour or more for help, who knows if these people would have been rescued in time,” she stated.
“We are specifically focused on factors that will ensure that public safety is not compromised,” said Finn, who indicated that, while the facility at Montoursville is the only such unit on the chopping block right now, “We are looking at the entire program. This is only the beginning.” The resources will still be available, she maintained, they will just be based in different areas.
Each of the units operate as part of PSP’s Aviation and Special Services division, which is led by Capt. Bill White. He, in turn, answers to administrators of the PSP Bureau of Emergency and Special Operations in Hershey. Although each unit has traditionally been assigned a patrol zone that includes neighboring counties, the aircraft are not held to regional boundaries and routinely make flights across the state.
The reason that the aviation unit near Williamsport is so important to residents of Tioga, Bradford, and Susquehanna Counties, noted Yaw, “is that it is centrally located.” Montoursville has also served as an efficient and safe base for the aircraft, he added, because it does not get socked in by fog as frequently as the facilities in Hazleton and Allentown.
Yaw is especially concerned about the relocation of the airplane, which, he noted, has been an invaluable tool for sighting marijuana patches and meth labs. Fixed wing aircraft, he added, doesn’t grab the attention of criminals the way a hovering helicopter would.
Readers who would like to share their thoughts about the imminent closure of the PSP aviation unit in Montoursville with Yaw may contact him at 570-265-7448 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.