RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Transportation owns a helicopter that, by any standard, is a luxury aircraft. But its a luxury that isn’t often taken advantage of.

“The helicopter only flew 66 hours in calendar year 2011,” said Catherine Moga-Bryant with the Program Evaluation Division.

The helicopter cost the state $560,000 worth of maintenance and upkeep last year, which means it cost $8,553 for every hour the helicopter was in use.

In continued tough economic times, a state legislative oversight committee debated if this is a luxury the state needs. Some said, maybe yes.

“We are competing with other companies in other states,” said Sen. Rick Gunn, an Alamance County Republican, “and I know I don’t use a terribly old, beat up, dilapidated pick up truck to take clients around to see industrial sites.”

The head of the state’s oversight division said the costs for the helicopter weren’t unexpected and that he is not surprised to hear lawmakers question whether or not this helicopter is warranted.

“Its just the nature of the helicopter in its mission,” said John Turcotte, the Program Evaluation Division Director. “It is not going to be used fairly often. So what we are suggesting is given the circumstances, it would make sense to us, at least economically to use a less expensive helicopter.”

The helicopter is used for two main functions. In times of emergency, it is used to travel across the state and survey damages. It is also taken out when the state is recruiting new businesses to help get from property to property to show what the state has to offer.

Gov. Bev Perdue uses the helicopter in both of those circumstances, but says she understands lawmakers hesitation.

“I understand the need for efficiency in government,” said Perdue. “I’ve done my share of cutting. Probably more than the General Assembly in terms of recommending cuts. So, I respect the discussions that are ongoing.”

Discussing about getting rid of this helicopter doesn’t mean lawmakers are looking to let the helicopter go completely. They said there could be more economical choices out there.

“There are other types of helicopters that we can lease from companies in North Carolina,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Caldwell County Republican. “They just may not be the limousine.

Lawmakers are still in preliminary discussions about the state DOT helicopter.