Nutter's attempt to fly away

On paper, it looked dicey.

Mayor Nutter's official schedule had him in City Hall for a 9:30 a.m. press conference; in Harrisburg at noon for a luncheon with state government reporters; and inside Citizens Bank Park at 2:45 p.m., throwing out the first pitch for the Phillies season opener.

So much to do, so little time - so little, in fact, that driving was out of the question.

But for Nutter, traveling by helicopter wasn't.

Today's plans called for the mayor to fly from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, and back, aboard one of two city-owned police helicopters.

Purchased for $3.4 million in 1998, it isn't clear if former Mayors Ed Rendell and John Street ever flew them. The helicopters intended purpose is to pursue fleeing suspects, or for other public safety reasons.

But at the time Nutter wanted to go to Harrisburg, both helicopters were on the ground, according to Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver.

"From a scheduling situation, we do everything we can not to find ourselves in this predicament," he said, referring to the time crunch. "But you certainly don't want to rule out their use, particularly when there may be official responsibilities in his capacity as mayor."

Oliver noted that the Harrisburg event, a speech before the Pennsylvania Press Club, had been scheduled since late December or early January. And there seemed to be little question about the chances of Nutter missing that first pitch. So to the heliport they went.

Or not.

With an overcast sky, visibility was too poor this morning for the helicopter to land, and so there was no trip to Harrisburg after all.

However, had there been, Oliver said it would not have been courtesy of the taxpayer. "Whatever the cost was, we certainly were going to do everything we could to relieve the citizens of paying for it by using campaign dollars," he said.

Looking ahead, Oliver didn't rule out Nutter's use of a helicopter in the future.

"It’s not the first option, but it is certainly an option under dire circumstances."