Sheriff’s plane not a high priority |

Sheriff’s plane not a high priority

Christine Ina Casillas

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office put in a request for a new, updated aircraft to use for drug surveillance flights and to transport prisoners. But Eagle County officials say that request is way down at the bottom of their capital improvements lists.

“I would be surprised if the county commissioners put this request in their budget,” said Jack Ingstad, Eagle County administrator. “We have to look at our priority projects, and I don’t see this as a priority. It didn’t get my approval.”

But Sheriff Joe Hoy said they were “shooting for the moon,” dividing the request into two parts with an upgrade of an old plane already in use and a new turbo plane that could reach the East Coast within three hours from departure.

The Sheriff’s Office now has a small, twin-engine six-seater air craft used to transport prisoners, but only one pilot is certified to fly it.

The airplane was given to former Sheriff A.J. Johnson through a drug grant from D.E.A., and only cost a small amount to upgrade.

“It was a good deal,” Hoy said. “(Johnson) got the plane for a nickel, and it’s to be used for “X’ amount of years.”

But Hoy said the Sheriff’s Office is limited by the range and speed of the aircraft. At times, he said, the weather can become so treacherous the plane cannot take off.

The cabin of the plane also isn’t pressurized for altitude, he said.

“The plane isn’t pressurized,” he said. “When we encounter storms from point A to point B, we can’t fly at all. A new turbo plane will give us the ability to use the plane more often, and our service area could become larger.”

A turbo plane also would attract more personnel certified to fly planes of that size, he said.

Right now only Deputy Brian Bishop is certified to fly the twin-engine, but he left the Sheriff’s Office to work in Pitkin County. Bishops still flies special trips for Eagle County.

“The plane is only available to Brian and the way he flies,” Hoy said. “With a turbo plane, other deputies could use it every day, and the more we use it the less it costs us.”

The Sheriff’s Office looked into what it would cost to upgrade their current aircraft about two months ago, Hoy said. The plane now is worth about $350,000 on the open market. The department could sell the aircraft at market price and put the money toward the turbo plane.

“Or, we could shoot for the moon and put in a request with all of our dreams and get one for about $700,000,” Hoy said. “But the plane’s way down at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Ingstad agreed.

“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Ingstad said, “but I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one.”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

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