Police helicopter pilot speaks out over ‘downgraded’ air support in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire

An NPAS police helicopter

An NPAS police helicopter - Credit: Archant

A police helicopter pilot has criticised the air support given to officers since a national scheme was introduced – calling it “a total joke”.

The Comet reported last month how the number of incidents given air support in Comet country has fallen by 85% since the Herts and Beds police helicopter was axed and replaced by a national scheme in October 2012.

The National Police Air Service (NPAS) scheme means 11 police force areas in the south east region – including Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire – are covered by four police helicopter bases in Essex, Suffolk, Surrey and Oxfordshire.

Having seen the figures, a police helicopter pilot has now decided to speak out against NPAS.

The pilot, who did not want to be named, said: “The service has been totally downgraded all around the country. Officers are just not bothering to ask for the helicopter, as they know they won’t get one, or the aircraft is too far away to be of any use.

“There are simply not enough aircraft, and the 24-hour coverage is a total joke. The transit times of the helicopters are far too much to be of any use to officers on the ground. Police helicopters are like air ambulances in that the response time is critical.”

He said three police forces across the country – including the Metropolitan Police – have refused to join NPAS. But the Herts and Beds police authorities signed up to NPAS on the understanding air support would be provided by the Met Police.

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The police helicopter pilot added: “The Met Police have turned the takeover down as NPAS had no business plan whatsoever and could not provide a guarantee of service for the money being paid. The taxpayer loses out at every turn and NPAS just employs more desk workers.

“This is a country-wide problem and it’s starting to cost the taxpayer more and more for a service that is far less capable and productive than the original service.”

Superintendent Richard Watson, from NPAS, said: “NPAS continues to deliver a cost-effective service, balancing the need to save money against the requirement of a quickly deployable asset. It is anticipated NPAS will save up to £15 million a year compared to previous arrangements for police air support.

“Plans remain in place for the transition of further forces into NPAS and work is ongoing to secure their involvement. As we provide a borderless service, we are able to make use of the nearest aircraft and in many cases our response time is enhanced.

“We recognise there are areas of improvement and we have been working hard alongside local commanders to resolve any issues identified. On average, we attend incidents within 20 minutes and NPAS remains a functional service which offers the best possible value to taxpayers.”