Police helicopters on the move

Sussex Police helicopter
The Sussex Police helicopter will be based at Redhill in Surrey from today. Photo: ITV Meridian

The new National Police Air Service (NPAS) launches today, 1st October 2012. The new service means police air support is co-ordinated nationally.

The project has been led by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and they estimate it will save £15million a year.

Under the scheme, police helicopters will now be based at 23 locations with 25 aircraft providing cover for England and Wales. ACPO said the new setup will provide an air service to 98 per cent of the population within 20 minutes.

It's been reported that under the new scheme, the total number of helicopters will drop from 33.

The service will be implemented over three years, with the final phase due to be completed in January 2015.

ACPO said West Yorkshire Police Authority had agreed for West Yorkshire Police to be the Lead Force for the air service and that this would ensure the service was led and owned by the police.

Under the first part of the rollout which begins today, the Sussex Police helicopter will move from the airport at Shoreham-by-Sea to Redhill in Surrey.

There will also be a helicopter based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Under later phases of scheme, a helicopter will also be based out of Bournemouth Airport from July 2013.

Plans for this improved service have been in the pipeline for three years and I’m delighted that today will mark the first phase of implementation of an improved service for the public of England and Wales that will result in significant financial savings.

"Artificial boundaries have meant that helicopters are restricted to operating within their own force area or consortia. A truly national, borderless service will ensure effective coverage of urban and rural areas. NPAS will provide the deployment of the nearest available aircraft and have reserve aircraft available when aircraft are offline for maintenance.

"I am grateful for the collective hard work undertaken by the ACPO and NPIA project team in the development of the service. In addition the work and cooperation of West Yorkshire Police to deliver the implementation plan and the support shown by the Government has been much appreciated."

– ACPO lead for NPAS, Chief Constable Alex Marshall

The chief constable has also said unmanned drones could form part of the air support system in future. Speaking ahead of the launch he said drones could stay airborne for longer and would be cheaper than running manned aircraft.

He said: "We don't use them in mainstream policing at the moment but they may well offer something for the future. They can stay up longer, they're cheaper, they can do things that you can't do having people in the air. But the Civil Aviation Authority for example, doesn't allow the use of drones out of line of sight, and there are other restrictions on using them.

"Plus the debate that still needs to be had, it might be cost effective, you might be able to keep it up longer, but is it acceptable to the citizens of the UK to have them in the air?

"Within line of sight they've been used by police and fire for just monitoring a building or whatever it might be. We should be looking at different ways of providing air support in the future that don't involve putting humans up in the air, but the public need to find it acceptable and it needs to be within the law."