Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust (WAACT) has signed a 10-year contract in Swindon with Heli Charter Ltd for a new helicopter, to come into service at the end of 2014, when the lease on the current 12 year old aircraft expires.
After a great deal of deliberation over the last 18 months, the charity’s Trustees selected a Bell 429, which is the world’s newest and most advanced light twin-engine helicopter in service, equipped with the latest in flight technology.
Prior to delivery the aircraft will be fitted out with the most recent Aerolite equipment to meet the highest helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) specification.
The Wiltshire helicopter will be the first Bell 429 to operate as an air ambulance in the UK. It has a top speed of 150 knots and a range of 400 miles making rapid response to any incident within the county achievable within minutes.
Starting in the late autumn of 2014, the contract with Heli Charter covers the provision, maintenance and flying of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance for up to 19 hours a day, every day of the year.
It also includes a replacement helicopter to be provided after 5 years. Paramedics and other medical support will continue to be provided by South West Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SWAST), with whom the Charity enjoys a close, efficient and effective working relationship.
The Charity spent nearly two years reviewing its options as soon as it became clear that the current partnership with Wiltshire Police would terminate, come what may, at the end of 2014, when they are mandated to use aircraft provided by the National Police Air Service.
With advice from consultants, three helicopter providers were shortlisted and invited to tender for the contract. Their submissions were subject to intensive scrutiny and assessment, which led to the selection of Heli Charter which is Bell’s UK agent.
The helicopter will be built in Mirabel, Canada in the first half of 2014 before being adapted to air ambulance configuration, which will make it capable of carrying one or two pilots, two or three paramedics as well as a patient on a stretcher.
The autumn will see a period of testing and training for the crews in Wiltshire so that the new air ambulance is set to go live by 1 December 2014.
At the signing the contract on behalf of WAACT, chairman Richard Youens said: "While the termination of our long standing association with the police is much to be regretted, it’s an ill wind that blows no good and we have taken the opportunity significantly to improve the quality of the service with state of the art equipment at a very competitive cost.
"Furthermore the new aircraft will be maintained on a rolling basis whereas the previous helicopter had to be taken off line for six weeks or more every year.
"With the loss of our collaboration with the police we will need to fund the full cost of providing the air ambulance alone. However I can say with confidence that thanks to the passionate support the charity receives from so many people in Wiltshire, the necessary funds, about £2.5m annually, will be found."
The 429 is also already operating successfully as an air ambulance elsewhere in Europe and Canada and the charity is confident that it will provide Wiltshire with one of the best emergency service aircraft available anywhere in the world.
Read about the aircraft in a medical role