SOUTH Yorkshire is to lose its own dedicated police helicopter, it has been announced.
The county will be served by helicopters based in West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Humberside instead – all operated by a new National Police Air Service rather than individual forces.
The move has been made to save money.
While the force was waiting to hear if it would retain its helicopter, South Yorkshire’s Chief Constable Med Hughes spoke of his concerns that it could be scrapped and said he wanted the county to continue to have an ‘effective air support unit’.
He said the chopper ‘provided a really good life-saving service for the people of South Yorkshire’.
Under the new plans it is estimated it will take 20 minutes for a helicopter to be scrambled from surrounding bases to deal with incidents in South Yorkshire.
The force will lose its helicopter in January 2013. It is regularly used for monitoring large crowds, pursuing stolen vehicles and looking for offenders.
A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said: “South Yorkshire Police will retain an operating helicopter base under the proposed new National Police Air Service.
“Although South Yorkshire Police will not have its own helicopter under the plans, the county will benefit from a 24 hour service that will provide a response within 20 minutes.
“The new national service will roll out from April 2012, with South Yorkshire due to become part of the service in January 2013, retaining its own helicopter until then.
“The National Police Air Service will cover South Yorkshire from three bases in West Yorkshire, Humberside and Derbyshire.
The spokeswoman added: “With South Yorkshire Police retaining a forward operating base, the intention is that a helicopter deployed to support South Yorkshire Police would land, refuel and await further deployment from Sheffield.
“The principle behind the new service is ‘borderless tasking’ – the helicopters will not belong to any individual force and the 20 bases will serve all forces according to priority.”
Scrapping the helicopter is expected to save the county’s police force £668,000 per year and the cost of operating an air base in Sheffield will be funded by the national service.
South Yorkshire Police Authority, which monitors the way the county’s police force is funded and performs, is set to discuss the issue at a meeting on Friday.
Staff who work on the helicopter will be able to transfer to the National Police Air Service.