News chopper wars?

NBC10 - whose local news broadcasts rank second at 6 p.m. and third at 11 p.m. - has added a helicopter to its newsgathering organization after breaking off a chopper-sharing relationship with CBS3 and Fox29.

A TV chopper, sources say, can cost a station between $500,000 and $1.5 million a year.

NBC10 says it's flying the chopper daily in the morning and afternoon, and the addition of the Bell 206 L4 LongRanger is part of Comcast Corp.'s investment in NBC-owned television stations around the country. Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in January 2011.

Years ago NBC10 had its own chopper, but entered into the sharing agreement to cut costs. CBS and Fox still share a chopper. 6ABC has its own. Those two choppers are based out of Northeast Airport. NBC10's chopper is based at Penn's Landing.

Anzio Williams, NBC10's vice president of news, said, "You need a helicopter in this market. You go from the Poconos to Cape May, that's a large area." Williams said he did not think that NBC10's earlier decision to eliminate its chopper benefited the community.

NBC10 says it will share a backup helicopter with the NBC-owned TV station in New York.

NBC10's local news ratings, particularly at 11 p.m., have been hurt by the network's weak prime-time slate of shows. Last month's sweeps ratings showed that an average 246,256 Philadelphia-area households tuned into 6ABC local news at 11 p.m., while an average 144,688 households watched NBC10, according to Nielsen Co. The average for CBS3 was 183,123.

"When times got tough, we did not walk away from it," said Bernie A. Prazenica, president and general manager of 6ABC. "If you are going to cover the tri-state area properly, you need a chopper. I say, 'Welcome back.'"