PLANS to change police air support to save cash are to be introduced early, according to Hampshire’s top policeman.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall has revealed the National Police Air Service roll-out in the south-east will start in October – nine months earlier than originally planned.
Hampshire is currently served by helicopters at RAF Odiham near Hook and Shoreham in West Sussex following a merger of air support with Surrey and Sussex in October 2010.
From autumn the county will be covered by helicopters at Redhill in Surrey, Benham in Oxfordshire and Bournemouth.
Mr Marshall is leading the National Police Air Service Project for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
He said: ‘It is all on track. The south east of England is due to join from October. We are setting up a new air support base in Redhill and we are working on another one at Bournemouth which is also going ahead.
‘That would mean that the south coast of Hampshire would be served mainly from the Bournemouth aircraft, but other parts of Hampshire from Redhill and Benson in Oxfordshire. We can move aircraft around to make sure the force has got the helicopter it needs.’
Mr Marshall insists the move, which will see the number of air support units nationwide cut from 31 to 26 with three spare aircraft – will improve coverage and save cash.
He added: ‘It’s already been trialled in the north.
‘You don’t need a helicopter in your own force because it flies at 130 miles per hour.
‘Even with a missing person, there is no point just having a helicopter up, you need to know what area you are searching.
‘Within an hour we can move a helicopter from 50 per cent of the UK.
‘Nationally it’s saving between £12m and £15m annually. That’s about 15 to 20 per cent. In Hampshire and the Isle of Wight we have already saved a third of a million with our first change to sharing with Surrey and Sussex. This will save more.’
Hampshire’s fixed-wing aircraft has since been mothballed. The force says it has received a ‘real and serious offer’ for it – but is staying tight-lipped about the details.