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Alderney Air Ambulance costs queried as ‘very very cheap’

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PLANS to operate a medevac helicopter in Alderney have been called into question by two people with experience of offering similar services.

Air Alderney has spent around £700,000 on a specialised air ambulance helicopter to serve the island in the case of medical emergencies, but its operating costs have been queried by other medevac providers.(24139390)

The estimated annual operational costs were ‘very, very, very cheap,’ they said.

But Alderney Air Ambulance’s Danny Brem-Wilson said that the operation he is planning will not require the same level of funding as similar ones elsewhere.

Mr Brem-Wilson said he had spent a total of £700,000 on the helicopter, a Bolkow 105, and his plan was for the proposed service to operate as a charity.

He estimated that it would cost about £350,000 a year to run.

But Andy Furness, CEO of Amber Tiger, which provides medevac and search and rescue services all over the world, said that in his experience this was a ‘very optimistic’ estimate.

‘£350,000 is very, very, very cheap to run a helicopter for a year.’

One of the operations Amber Tiger has set up recently involves an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter flying medevac missions in the Middle East and this is costing just under £80,000 a month: ‘That’s not including pilots or fuel,’ said Mr Furness.

By comparison, an air ambulance operation in Scotland costs £4,000 a day, while Air Ambulance Northern Island said it needs £5,500 a day to keep the service running.

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Retired Army helicopter pilot and instructor Lt-Col Mike Perry said there were unique issues when running helicopters. ‘The problem with them is that everything is moving, it’s not like on an aeroplane where you have a propeller and an engine.’

All of these moving parts have a life-span, some in terms of how many hours they have been used and some purely based on their age: ‘Some components have to be replaced every 3,000 hours.

‘Typically a twin-engine aircraft like this would be costing anything up to £1,000 per hour just in maintenance.’

He questioned whether it would be cost-effective offering to provide such a service to Alderney alone. ‘The costs would be absolutely astronomical for a population of some 1,900 people.’

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Wessex Aviation, which is owned by Mr Brem-Wilson, re-registered the helicopter as 2-BREM in December 2015.

Its original registration was G-ENYL, which records show was manufactured in 1979.

Auctioneers Lambert Smith Hampton said they sold this helicopter in 2015 and Mr Brem-Wilson said as far as he could recall he paid about £80,000 for it.

‘We bought the aircraft from a receiver,’ he said.

After that, it was parked in the Wessex Aviation hangar at Biggin Hill and over the years it was overhauled when time allowed.

Mr Brem-Wilson said the fact it had previously been used as an air ambulance meant that it was already configured for this purpose.

A paramedic employed by the service who has trained other paramedics helped set up the helicopter with the necessary medevac equipment. ‘He’s been in the ambulance business for 22 years,’ said Mr Brem-Wilson.

The running costs are based on the aircraft operating in daytime only. Eventually he hoped it would be funded through the charity: ‘I don’t mind funding it for the first year, but if it’s to keep carrying on it has to be self-funding.’

He based his costs estimate on the level of work he anticipated. ‘Some of these air ambulance services do four or five flights a day. You will never get that in Alderney,’ he said.

The Bolkow will need two pilots and Mr Brem-Wilson said that would be sufficient to cover a daytime-only operation.

The aircraft is now in the company’s hangar in Alderney.

‘Our charity should be set up in the next couple of weeks,’ he said.

‘Our company is up and running. We have engineers and a pilot.’

He hoped the helicopter would start operations in two or three months.

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