It's known as the "bear in the air"...the aircraft that Virginia State Police use to catch speeders. But lately, that bear appears to be in hibernation.
It's expensive to fly those planes...anywhere from $600 to about $1,000 per hour. Couple that with funding cuts and this "eye in the sky" doesn't see the way it used to.
We've all seen those brown rectangular signs. And we've all wondered...just what do they mean, "speed limit enforced by aircraft"?
"Do they actually do it?" asked Dan McClarren.
"I just think it's there to scare people," said Matthew Crowther.
"What are they gonna do? Come down and land? Drop a bomb on you?" joked Rip Brown.
Not exactly. There is a plane: A Cessna 182. And there are three troopers: A pilot, a spotter, and one more on the highway who pulls over the driver seen going too fast. But that takes a lot of time, money, and manpower, and State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller told the Charlottesville Daily Progress, "We've cut back significantly because of the cost associated with operating an aircraft."
As a result, the number of tickets issued has been declining in recent years, just 12 years after the Cessnas were first called into service. For example, in the first eight years of the program (2000-2008), State Police issued 5,117 speeding tickets from the air. But since 2009...just 87.
We asked our random drivers what they thought about that.
"They should get rid of it anyway. There's enough cops on the highway," said McClarren.
"I think it's probably a good idea since there are so many issues with budgets and spending government money and whatnot," said Laura Mackle.
"I think they oughta get rid of it. What are they gonna do, send a place up there to check everybody?" added Brown.
State Police say, no, they won't send a plane up there to check on everybody. But they also won't be getting rid of it. You just never know when the "bear in the air" will come out of hibernation.
There have been only six aircraft speed enforcement flights in Virginia dating back to 2008 including none this year.
The planes don't go idle. They're also used for administrative transports, surveillance, and pilot training.
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