Pilot shortage keeping CoCo sheriff's choppers grounded

It’s an eye in the sky to spot suspects, find the missing, and help the injured. But KTVU learned that the Bay Area’s largest police air force is grounded most of the time because they have three helicopters, but only one pilot.

The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department says it’s a problem for their operations, which include everything from rescues to chasing bad guys. It’s up to ground units to respond if they aren’t able.

“Well, that's the problem is right now we're only funded for one pilot,” said Captain William Duke, “which is unfortunate because of all the capabilities this air program has. We're really only available four days a week.”

Right now, John Myers is the only pilot who can fly the top of the line choppers.

“At the point I take a vacation or have a cold, right now the air support unit's not up,” he said.

 The department is also selling its oldest helicopter and will use those funds to operate a newly purchased one. But it still needs the money to hire another pilot.

Once fuel and maintenance are included, operating a chopper seven days a weeks can add up to $200,000 a year.

The Sheriff’s Department is trying to form partnerships with local police agencies to share some of the costs. 

“Everything is on the table at this point to make sure that these assets are utilized and not sitting in a hangar,” said Duke.