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State Police Reduce Aerial Reinforcement

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - The Virginia State Police has scaled back an aerial speed limit enforcement program due to the program's costs.

Since 2008, only 20 tickets have resulted from troopers patrolling interstates in Cessna 182 airplanes. No speeding tickets have been issued this year. Troopers issued 5,117 tickets between 2000, when the General Assembly approved the program, and 2008.

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller says the state police had to reduce expenses because of decreased federal funding, state budget cuts, and a manpower shortage.

"We've cut back significantly because of the cost associated with operating an aircraft," she told The Daily Progress.

An hour in the air costs about $150 for fuel and maintenance. The missions range from four-and-a-half to six hours. They require a trooper-pilot, a specially trained trooper to calculate a vehicle's speed, and a trooper on the ground. To become certified, troopers must undergo classroom and field training.

"It is a bit manpower-intensive," Geller said.

Most of the 586 hours that the three planes spent in the air in 2011 were for administrative transports, surveillance, and pilot training, she said.

Other states also have scaled back aerial patrol programs.

New York State Police have not written a traffic ticket for offenses spotted during aerial missions since 2005.

The California Highway Patrol still has 15 planes used to catch speeders, but spokeswoman Fran Clader said earlier this year that the department's annual air operations budget has decreased by a third, from about $12 million to $8 million. California police aircraft have been repurposed, spending most airtime on support searches and pursuits.

Alabama lawmakers instituted aerial speed enforcement in 1990, and the Alabama Highway Patrol still touts the program on its web site. But aviation unit Cpl. Kent Smith said earlier this year that the tactic hasn't been used for years.