New police helicopter service launches today

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POLICE chiefs are trying to reassure South Yorkshire residents that they will not suffer when they lose control of the county’s police helicopter from today - and revealed the chopper has been out of action for the last two months.

From today all police helicopters will be run by the National Police Air Service, set up by the Government to reduce policing costs by making forces share aircraft.

The now disbanded South Yorkshire Police Authority, which used to oversee the way the county’s police force was run, objected to the formation of a national service when the original suggestion included a plan to close the police helicopter base in Sheffield, but after months of negotiation police chiefs are now onboard after being promised 10 hours of helicopter coverage a day from Sheffield.

Superintendent Simon Verrall, who oversees the use of the county’s helicopter, said he does not expect any noticeable differences in the level of service the county will receive under the new system.

He revealed that South Yorkshire’s helicopter has been out of action for the last two months for routine maintenance work.

“We have negotiated 10 hours of flying time a day from the Sheffield base until 2018, with additional consortium support available from Derby, Humberside and Leeds. The 10 hours will cover the core hours when we used to use the helicopter,” he said.

“We never had 24 hours a day flying due to the expense - we would have needed another shift which would have meant more pilots and more engineers for example. It’s a big cost to put a helicopter in the air. We also had routine maintenance work which meant we could not fly all year round.

“Our helicopter is not flying at the moment, it hasn’t been for two months, which is usual at this time of year for annual maintenance checks.

“The national service makes sense - it did not for South Yorkshire when we could not retain our own base, it would have meant less of a service for South Yorkshire compared to what we used to have.”

He said the South Yorkshire chopper is expected to last until 2018, when a decision on whether to replace it will have to be made.

“People have called the helicopter an expensive luxury - it is the most expensive piece of equipment we have got but it is difficult to put a price on its worth because of the work it does such as assisting in life saving searches when people are missing and in keeping the public safe when police pursuits are underway on the streets of South Yorkshire. For me I think it is absolutely essential that we have it.”