Border Patrol

Procurement of MD 600N Helicopters Should Be Reassessed Gao ID: GGD-00-201 September 29, 2000

The U.S. Border patrol is procuring a new type of helicopter--the MD 600N--to replace its aging helicopter fleet. The MD 600N is expected to meet various air operations requirements, such as low and slow surveillance and transport of agents. This report provides information and analysis on the MD 600N procurement and whether the MD 600N has been effective in safely supporting the Border Patrol's primary air operations mission. Most Border Patrol pilots experienced in flying the MD 600N and most sector chiefs had strong reservations about the helicopter's suitability for key missions. The pilots were also concerned with the aircraft's safety, citing difficulty in performing emergency maneuvers. Two of the three law enforcement agencies with MD 600Ns that GAO spoke with shared many of the same concerns. GAO recommends that INS: (1) address issues raised by pilots and mechanics before buying more MD 600Ns; and (2) reassess its purchase decision.

GAO noted that: (1) the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) procurement in which the MD 600N helicopter was selected for the Border Patrol was intended to provide an aircraft capable of meeting a variety of air operations requirements, such as low and slow surveillance and transport of agents and mission equipment; (2) to obtain such a multipurpose aircraft, the contract solicitation listed three minimum performance criteria the aircraft needed to have; (3) the aircraft was required to operate at a speed of up to 130 knots, operate at high altitude with crew and equipment as outlined by the statement of work, and be capable of operating at least 2 hours under normal conditions; (4) the aircraft was also required to have seating for two pilots and two passengers; (5) only two aircraft were determined to be within the competitive range under these specifications; (6) some weaknesses were noted with both of the aircraft, although overall both were considered acceptable; (7) the contract was awarded to McDonnell Douglas based on the best value to the government; (8) the Border Patrol has purchased 11 of these helicopters for about $1.3 million each; (9) most Border Patrol pilots who have had experience flying the MD 600N and most sector chiefs expressed strong reservations about the suitability of the helicopter for supporting key operations missions; (10) pilots were concerned about the safety of the MD 600N, citing difficulty in performing emergency procedures and with other documented problems, such as malfunctioning of the engine control system and defective control cables; (11) the pilots also said that the MD 600N is generally difficult to operate and fatiguing to fly; (12) the amount of time the MD 600N helicopters were unavailable because of maintenance-related reasons also was a concern to pilots, mechanics, and most Border Patrol sector chiefs; (13) Border Patrol Air Operations records show the aircraft was unavailable about 50 percent of the time between December 1998 and March 2000; (14) responding to GAO's inquiry regarding these concerns, the current manufacturer of the MD 600N, MD Helicopters Incorporated (MDH), stated that all known problems with parts or components have been or will be corrected; (15) based on the problems they have encountered, and after almost 2 years of experience with the helicopter, most pilots, mechanics, and sector chiefs do not support acquiring more MD 600Ns for the Border Patrol fleet; and (16) most sector chiefs questioned the appropriateness of acquiring a multipurpose aircraft to meet the individual needs in each sector.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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