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New air ambulance for Wiltshire

Rob Pennell (regional sales manager of Bell Helicopter), Ken Wills (chairman and CEO of Heli Charter) and Chris Lear (WAACT Trustee) with the National Grid’s Bell 429

Rob Pennell (regional sales manager of Bell Helicopter), Ken Wills (chairman and CEO of Heli Charter) and Chris Lear (WAACT Trustee) with the National Grid’s Bell 429

WILTSHIRE Air Ambulance Charitable Trust (WAACT) signed a 10-year contract in Swindon with Heli Charter Ltd for a new helicopter on 7th January.

This helicopter will come into service at the end of the year, 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 five years.

Paramedics and other medical support will continue to be provided by the 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 1st December 2014.

At the signing of the contract on behalf of WAACT, its 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 National Grid took delivery of a Bell 429 last summer for their survey work and they are delighted with its performance and handling. 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.

Heli Charter Chairman and CEO, Ken Wills said, “Heli Charter is extremely proud and excited to have been awarded the contract with WAACT to provide the next generation of air ambulance to the people of Wiltshire.  Heli Charter and the Trust have worked together to fully evaluate the Bell 429, which will serve the Trust well for the next 10 years. It is the most advanced light medium twin helicopter available and is widely used globally as an air ambulance. We look forward to delivering the aircraft and being part of the team providing this essential service for the county.

Patrick Moulay, Bell Helicopter’s managing director of commercial sales for Europe said, “Customers throughout Europe are discovering the Bell 429 is the premiere light twin solution for a number of needs. We have a long heritage serving air ambulance customers throughout the world and are proud to be able to support the entire Wiltshire community.”

For more information about Wiltshire Air Ambulance, just go to www.wiltshireairambulance.co.uk.