A Middle River company that leased helicopters to the Baltimore Police Department is seeking $600,000 in back payments for the aircraft, which the department stopped using in 1998 after a fatal crash.
Helicopter Transport Services Inc., based at Martin State Airport, has filed a lawsuit alleging that the city breached its contract with the company when it grounded the helicopters.
HTSI said in Baltimore County Circuit Court papers that the police department was two years into a three-year contract on Nov. 4, 1998, when Flight Officer Barry W. Wood was killed in a crash on the grounds of the B&O Railroad Museum.
The accident, which came a year after two city officers were injured when their helicopter went down, prompted then-police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to ground all three police helicopters indefinitely because of safety concerns.
The HTSI suit alleges that the city owes the company $600,000 on the final year of the contract. The suit maintains that the city guaranteed payment in a pact that officials signed when they agreed to lease three helicopters for three years beginning July 7, 1996.
City police "ceased flying the leased helicopters and failed to satisfy the contract requirement that it pay HTSI for flight hours," the suit alleges.
A city police spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit yesterday but said the department is planning to reinstitute the helicopter unit.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the 1998 crash was caused by improper assembly of an engine installed at the Textron-Lycoming plant in Williamsport, Pa., 13 days before the accident. The NTSB report noted that the plant was using nonunion replacement workers because of a strike.