Air ambulance hit by firm’s collapse
Emergency service grounded after company goes into liquidation:
AN emergency air ambulance which responded to three calls a day has been grounded after the firm behind its operating licence went into liquidation.
Wiltshire Air Ambulance can no longer use its Bell 429 helicopter because the company behind its Air Operator Certificate (AOC), Heli Charter, has collapsed.
In place of it, two rapid response cars are being used, along with support from neighbouring air ambulances trusts.
The halt to use of the Bell 429 on Thursday came a day after the helicopter, recently purchased by the ambulance trust, also failed a safety test. The helicopter was last grounded amid fears the deadly nerve agent Novichok had contaminated it following its response in Amesbury last June. After two weeks of testing, it was allowed to fly again.
A spokesman for Wiltshire Air Ambulance said he did not know when the helicopter would be back flying, describing the situation as “fluid”.
The organisation has to fix the helicopter and also find a new company to hold its AOC with, or issue one for itself.
The spokesman said: “We are aware of the difficult events taking place at Heli Charter, our AOC holder.
“At this time we express our sympathies with the staff of Heli Charter who have been affected.
“The charity has its own contingency plan, which has already begun.
“For some time we have been looking to secure our own AOC and those preparations are well advanced and its issuance imminent.”
He added: “We continue to respond to medical emergencies from our two rapid response vehicles, which carry the same specialist medical equipment that is onboard the helicopter.
“Also under our mutual aid proto- cols, we will be supported by neighbouring air ambulance charities should there be incidents requiring a helicopter.”
The service launched in 1990 and is based in Semington. Its Royal patron is the Duchess of Cornwall.
In the financial year 2017/18, it responded to 871 incidents.
Most call-outs were for medical conditions, followed by road traffic collisions and traumas such as sporting injuries.
Its charitable trust raises £3.25m a year in a bid to ensure the air ambulance is on call for 19 hours a day.
Heli Charter was founded by businessman Ken Wills. But in 2017 he died following a battle with cancer.
A spokesman for the firm said: “Following the sad passing of Ken Wills back in October 2017, Heli Charter in Manston had continued to trade in the service and supply of Bell Helicopters.
“During the last quarter of 2018 it became apparent that the investment needed to sustain and grow the business was not economically viable. A voluntary liquidation of Heli Charter Limited has now been sought.
“The decision was not reached lightly by directors.”
The Wiltshire Air Ambulance leaves Bath in July last year