'Westcountry better off with new police air solution'
Helicopter cover in Devon and Cornwall will be bolstered not diminished by the move to the new National Police Air Service, the chairman of the police authority said yesterday.
The new air service has unified police helicopter operations for the 43 forces in England and Wales and will operate 25 aircraft from 23 bases.
The new plan in the South West comes into effect next summer with ownership of the aircraft switching to the new service.
As part of a long-term estates strategy, Devon and Cornwall Police's helicopter will move from headquarters at Middlemoor to Exeter Airport.
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Mike Bull, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, said the helicopter would "continue to be available for us whenever we want it".
"The new National Police Air Service will be better for us because we only have one helicopter and when that is down for maintenance, or any other reason, we don't have a back up helicopter," he explained.
"Then we are at the mercy of other forces if we suddenly have a dire need for it. Under the new system we will have, as of right, the national air service to assist us."
Mr Bull said "one or two other forces might be disappointed" by the new arrangements. But he stressed: "The NPAS has recognised from the early stages of negotiations that we have to have a helicopter for this peninsula because of the geography and distances involved.
"We are really rather satisfied with the result, which is also going to save us money."
It is estimated that the cost of running air support, nationally, will fall from around £63 million to around £48 million. Devon and Cornwall's force helicopter currently costs about £1.6 million to run.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, who is leading the NPAS scheme for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that, by placing aircraft in "more logical locations", the new service would be able to provide 98% of the population of England and Wales with a response in under 20 minutes. The current figure is 97%.