Reorganization of Great Britain’s police helicopter bases is well under way, in a campaign to provide “more efficient and accessible” air support to police forces in England and Wales. Although the number of bases is being cut, the improved efficiency of the system should eventually ensure that 98 percent of the population is within 20 minutes’ flight time of a base.
The new National Police Air Service (NPAS) is “a national service, regionally coordinated for local delivery.” In practical terms, the “borderless service” will eliminate “artificial boundaries” that created geographic restrictions and yield reduced response times; of the revamp is intended to save £15 million ($23 million) annually. Chief constable Alex Marshall, in charge of the NPAS at the Association of Chief Police Officers, told AIN, “[To satisfy] the Civil Aviation Authority, there must be one owner of all air assets and a clear line of accountability for aspects such as maintenance and finance.”
The West Yorkshire police are the “lead force” to implement the new NPAS and are employing the crews and operating the helicopters on behalf of all regions, which are represented by a strategic board. The aircraft will be made available 24/7.
Implementation began last October and under the current agreement is scheduled to run through January 2015. The plan is progressing on track, Marshall added, with the Northwest region on board since January, the Northeast region joining this month and London slated to follow suit in January next year.
There will be 23 bases, fewer than the previous 30 “police air support units.” There will eventually be “61 rostered crews, plus leave cover,” Marshall said, adding that this is “a net reduction of four pilots.” A crew consists of a pilot and two “tactical flight officers” (observers).
At 28 (including three reserve aircraft), the planned fleet of helicopters will be reduced by five from the previous 33. Some, on lease, will be returned and one will be sold. One aircraft, in Redhill, will be shared with an emergency medical service. Once the plan is fully implemented, the NPAS will have 16 Eurocopter EC135s, four EC145s, seven MD Explorers and one AgustaWestland A109.
In the longer term, further savings are expected, notably through “an optimized fleet.” Marshall downplayed the possibility of a tender for a fleet order but acknowledged that the strategic board may one day make a decision on using fixed-wing aircraft, too.