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Milestone for helicopter fleet project

Milestone for helicopter fleet project

An important milestone in the aircraft fleet replacement project for the Children’s Air Ambulance is achieved today with the relaunch of the service after a short, enforced break.

Towards the end of last year, a seven-year aircraft fleet and services contract between the Children’s Air Ambulance (TCAA) and Specialist Aviation Services (SAS) was terminated.

The termination was in response to the children’s charity being asked to pay additional costs, for two aircraft, which would have doubled the monthly expenditure for the remaining four years of the contract. This would have amounted to more than £15million additional expenditure. TCAA worked hard to find a solution but unfortunately, the contract with SAS concluded on 29 September 2021.

While working towards a solution with SAS, the charity also developed robust contingency plans and announced that Sloane Helicopters Limited (SHL) would provide TCAA services moving forward. Working in partnership with SHL, a replacement AW169 was ordered and built at manufacturer Leonardo’s factory in Italy and this has now arrived in Oxford where it is having a specialist clinical interior fitted, which will be used by the charity’s 11 NHS Clinical Partner Teams (CPTs).

Before the new helicopter is completed, TCAA will introduce an interim aircraft in March which will work with CPTs to provide potentially lifesaving transfers for very poorly babies and children. During the Summer the first AW169 will be brought online, replacing the interim aircraft, and this will be quickly followed by a second AW169, with a new clinical interior, to bring the fleet to full capacity.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “The continuation of lifesaving services is the absolute, highest priority for the charity but it must also ensure it spends charitable funds ethically and responsibly, as entrusted by our loyal supporters. The charity must also safeguard future finances to ensure it can continue to provide all of its lifesaving services.”

The introduction of the two replacement aircraft will bring an end to a long, 18-month project and fulfils the charity’s aim of not only continuing but also improving the world-class service it provides. These future services will be available to NHS partners for more hours in the day, every day, and will utilise better equipment to benefit young patients.

“Our hard work never stops and we have a clear strategy in place which is designed to deliver a better service for future generations while maximising the support we provide through our ground-breaking work,” said a charity spokesperson.

“This innovation includes our very latest project which is to provide on board three incubators for our future fleet. This 18month-long, half-a-million-pound project has just been completed and will be ready to be used by our NHS clinical partners with the new aircraft.

“In addition, we are in the process of implementing a virtual training package for our CPTs which will mean less time away from their specialist wards and patients as they can undergo the necessary training away from the aircraft.”

The Children’s Air Ambulance is a national service supporting NHS specialist transport teams with paediatric and neonatal care through the high-speed transfer of critically ill babies and children and flying them from one hospital to another for specialist care. When a child is too sick to fly, Children’s Air Ambulance transfers highly trained NHS specialist teams to the patient.

The charity, which has carried out nearly 600 potentially lifesaving missions, receives no funding from government or National Lottery for its missions and relies entirely on voluntary donations to raise the £3,500 needed for every mission.