The Shropshire-based Midlands Air Ambulance is buying a new £4.5 million helicopter to allow it to respond to night-time incidents for the first time, it was revealed today.
One of the charity’s three aircraft will be replaced and kitted out with new equipment as part of plans costing an extra £1.6m a year. It will be used from September 2013, when the charity will begin its full night-time flying service.
The charity, which is celebrating its 21st anniversary, currently only carries out operations in daylight. But this new aircraft will enable staff to respond 24 hours a day.
It is likely to be kept at RAF Cosford, where many of the fleet’s doctors are based.
The fleet started out with just one aircraft in 1991 but has since expanded and has responded to more than 38,000 call-outs to date, making it the busiest and largest air ambulance operator in England and Wales.
The charity will need to pay a deposit of about £1m on the new helicopter and pay off the rest in instalments over a number of years. The fleet will continue to be operated by Bond Air Services.
Hanna Sebright, chief executive of Midlands Air Ambulance, said “The purchase of our first new aircraft marks another significant milestone in our history. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that none of this would have been possible without the support of the public that support our life-saving service."
With demand for a helicopter to attend 999 emergencies rising by around 10 per cent every year, bosses recently admitted the charity is under increasing financial pressure. But they say the new night-time service will help save lives.
New fundraising schemes are bringing in a much-needed £500,000 a year. But the charity has also been hit by spiralling fuel costs and flight duty.
Each mission attended by the air ambulance now costs around £2,000 – up from £1,500 just six months ago.