COST-CUTTING plans for a National Police Air Service are being rolled out in Hampshire from today.
As revealed in The News, the service is starting 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 2010m which saved about a third of a million pounds.
But the new service means there will be three helicopter bases positioned close to Hampshire’s borders in the north, west and east – Bournemouth Airport, Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey and RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.
Emergency call-outs are to be managed by the force control room via electronic links to the police air service dispatch centre in West Yorkshire.
The service – led by Hampshire police Chief Constable Alex Marshall on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers – is being rolled out across the south east from today.
The number of police helicopters nationwide is being reduced from 31 to 25.
Three aircraft are being kept in reserve to provide coverage when other aircraft are undergoing scheduled maintenance, refurbishment or repair.
Police say the move will increase overall air support availability nationally by eight per cent and the whole of Hampshire will receive air support within 20 minutes.
Under the new initiative, police air support will cost around 20 per cent less than the current system, saving between £12m and £15m a year, and be more consistent across the country.
Assistant Chief Constable John Campbell said: ‘The National Police Air Service will be a strong and operationally-resilient service and will come at less cost to the taxpayer.
‘Under NPAS, every force will have fast and easy access to air support unrestricted by force geography and, through collaboration, even if one helicopter is already out on deployment, another one will always be available.
‘This is another step towards a more joined-up approach to policing and will ensure continuity in the quality of air support across all forces.’
The service will be completely rolled out by 2015, with Wiltshire being the last force to join.
Hampshire’s fixed-wing aircraft has been mothballed. The force says it has received a ‘real and serious offer’ for it – but is staying tight-lipped about the details.