Air am­bu­lance hit by firm’s col­lapse

Emer­gency ser­vice grounded af­ter com­pany goes into liq­ui­da­tion:

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Front Page - ALEX ROSS [email protected]­

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.”

Paul Gil­lis

The Wilt­shire Air Am­bu­lance leaves Bath in July last year

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