Chopper tender sees global gaze
Overseas emergency contractors have shown interest in New Zealand’s national helicopter rescue service.
At a meeting in Auckland last week to thrash out a new model for the service, having representatives including from the UK and Canada in the room was concerning, Auckland’s Rescue Helicopter Trust chief executive Greg Barrows said.
Babcock (UK) operates more than 400 aircraft internationally, including in Australia, and supplies engineering support services to the New Zealand navy.
CHC is a Canadian company with 250 aircraft operating in 30 countries around the world including for the Ambulance Service of New South Wales.
While a shakeup has some positive aspects, Barrows said, funding changes are needed.
The helicopter service is the only emergency service provider that supplies all its own vehicles and equipment, with government contributing less than half its operating costs, he said.
A longer term contract out to five or 10 years is being discussed, Northland Emergency Trust CEO Paul Ahlers said, likely needing newer aircraft.
Most of the national fleet are 25 years and older, he said. Funding for newer aircraft comes from local communities.
‘‘It’s one thing to stand outside the Warehouse with a barbecue to raise money for the likes of fuel, but it’s a different thing to do that for a $15 million dollar helicopter,’’ Ahlers said.
The trusts need 75 per cent funding of all costs, including capital [aircraft and equipment] as the ambulance service gets, Barrows said.
Current $50 million funding would need to more than double, he said.
He finds it disingenuous of the government to now set up a commercial tender process setting the trusts against overseas operators instead of simply funding the current operators properly.
But Group Manager Integrated Service Design for Ministry of Health, Clare Perry, says all those at the meeting were invited after showing interest when the tender went online in September 2016.
‘‘Nothing has been decided about what a new service model might look like.’’