Rescue chopper services ‘running on empty’
Stuff.co.nz - New Zealand.
Northland’s rescue helicopter might have to cut night and poor-weather flights if it can not secure funding.
The Northland Emergency Services Trust which runs the two electricity rescue helicopters is “running on empty”, says chief executive officer Pete Turnbull.
Northland ratepayers are being asked to consider paying a special rate, of $8.56 a year, to keep the rescue chopper afloat.
The Northland Regional Council plans to give the trust a grant of about $600,000 a year.
Mr Turnbull says this will cover the trust’s yearly shortfall, caused by a lack of major sponsors, price rises, and a low exchange rate making fuel and helicopter parts more expensive.
If the shortfall continues, the rescue helicopter will have to look at cutting some of its services, he says.
“We have a very fine service in New Zealand – an international standard – available in all weather, 24–7, with two machines that are capable of carrying multiple patients in all conditions,” he says.
Night flights would be the first thing to stop, says Mr Turnbull, followed by flights in adverse weather.
The trust may then have to go down to one helicopter, which will mean huge gaps when the helicopter needs servicing.
Mr Turnbull says these cuts would put the service at the same level as many other operators throughout the country.
The Northland Emergency Services Trust does about 600 rescues and missions a year at a cost of $4m, including being an ambulance for the most serious patients, patient transfers, and search and rescues.
Two-thirds of the funding comes from clients like ACC, district health boards and police, says Mr Turnbull.
The trust is also very lucky to have the support of Top Energy and Northpower which underwrite and back its annual public appeal, he says. But it also needs major sponsorship, after the Lions Foundation pulled out of a 10-year deal about 18 months ago due to changes in gaming trends, he says.
“The shortfall was made up by the ASB Community Trust for one year. That’s just run out and we’re now running on empty.”
The regional council is inviting comments on its draft Northland Community Plan 2009–2019, which includes the rate for the rescue helicopter.
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