MIRGWith the formation of the National Police Aviation Service the debate about how air support might add additional capabilities to the Fire and Rescue Service has been renewed. Dr Dave Sloggett looks at how one company, EUROCOPTER, has been at the forefront of the debate.

Against a slightly cloudy sky the deep purple coloured helicopter descended from the sky close to the Road Traffic Accident. The doors opened and six uniformed members of the London Fire Brigade jumped out and headed towards the tangled mess of a car in front of them. Hovering a few feet away another helicopter took on the role of scene commander collecting images and helping marshal the overall response by the emergency services. Cutting quickly into the car a casualty was removed. Another helicopter from the Ambulance Service quickly landed in order to provide specialised assistance as the casualty was evacuated to hospital. The whole episode lasted minutes.

In such situations time is of the essence. The faster the response the more likely it is that casualties will survive. Already air ambulance services across the United Kingdom have an impressive tally of people’s lives that they have saved in a variety of situations. But of all of the various roles they play major road traffic accidents that are the source of the main tasking in which they become involved.

A detail look at the figures explains why. In the first nine months of 2012 there was a seven percent drop in the number of people killed to 1,760. Small falls in the number of vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians were also recorded. That good news was partially offset by an increase in the number of people killed and injured. This rose by two percent in the same nine month period to 24,860. In total in the year to September 2012 there were 197,730 casualties in 146,980 accidents according to statistics released by the Department of Transport. That is a staggering average of just over 400 accidents on our roads per day.

The scene that has been described however was not a major event on one of the motorways around the United Kingdom. It was an exercise played out at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) which was held over three days at the former Royal Air Force base at Fairford in July. The demonstration was laid on by EUROCOPTER UK, a part of the European Air Defence Systems (EADS) group.

The purpose behind the exercise was to show to the public at large attending RIAT and guests invited from across the emergency services arena how helicopters could play a role in bringing specialised equipment and people rapidly to a scene to speed up the recovery of casualties and their removal to hospital.

EUROCOPTER UK has been at the forefront of raising awareness in the emergency services arena of the utility of aviation support in a range of difficult scenarios. Using the National Risk Register (NRR) published by the Cabinet Office as their guide the team based at Oxford Airport have undertaken a systematic review of the ways in which aviation support can play a crucial role when natural or man-made disasters occur. The demonstration at RIAT was the latest in a series of moves that the company has made to raise awareness on these matters. One of the highlights of the RIAT display was the degree of interoperability between the aviation assets operated by the Police, Ambulance Service and by a national London Fire Brigade unit at the scene.

The next step in that process happened in September when EUROCOPTER UK hosted a national resilience day demonstration at their headquarters. The day consisted of a briefing by one of the companies leading officials, an ex-French Army pilot called Benoit Terral, on the range of helicopters that EUROCOPTER has in its portfolio and how they can be used in a wide range of different emergency situations.

Across the world, every day, the company’s helicopters are involved in a range of missions relating to homeland security and providing resilient responses when disaster strikes. Today EUROCOPTER boasts that it has sixty percent of the world’s market share when it comes to supporting a wide variety of homeland security missions. In the United States EUROCOPTER has already supplied 280 of the 322 aircraft ordered by the government for the United States National Guard.

Another element of the day involved flying one of EUROCOPTER’s latest aircraft, the EC 145 T2, from Germany into Oxford to conduct some demonstration flights. The aircraft departed from the EUROCOPTER facility near Munich in the morning and arrived in the UK at lunchtime for its first flights having crossed Europe and made two refuelling stops near Stuttgart and at Ostend.

The EC 145 T2 model is the latest version of a machine that already has an established pedigree. Able to carry nine or ten people and their specialised equipment to the scene of an incident at a speed of over 130 knots and carry an unslung load of up to 1.5 tonnes the aircraft sets the benchmark for the next generation of aviation support. It also has forty percent more volume for carrying equipment that its predecessor the EC 145 and is able to load items up to two metres by two metres in cross sectional area.

The T2 variant takes aviation support in homeland security missions to a new ‘reference level’ according to Benoit Terral. Already the aircraft has flown over 600,000 hours. Its configuration, with a Fenestron® tail rotor, offers safety improvements over the EC 145 when accessing the read loading doors to load or unload equipment. On the test flight laid on for the guests the pilot put the aircraft and its systems through an impressive repertoire of moves. The four-axis autopilot is without doubt a major development. For any pilots attending an incident its capabilities significantly reduce the workload and provide them with time to look out rather than looking in at the fully digital and easy to understand instrument panel.

The timing of these demonstrations by EUROCOPTER is designed to fit in with an emerging debate on the exact configuration of aviation support that will be provided by NPAS. At present NPAS is the single entity that now operates the fleet of helicopters that used to be operated by individual police forces. Many of the helicopters brought together under the auspices of NPAS are already built by EUROCOPTER. The EC 135 is a machine that is nearly ubiquitous in the police aviation arena in the United Kingdom. The catalogue of incidents in which the EC 135 has been involved provides evidence of the contribution aviation support can make to the day-to-day operations of the emergency services. This aircraft even provided FRS counter-terrorism support during last year’s Olympic Games.

That however was always a first step. Building a truly resilient response to the range of sometimes terrifying threats outlined in the NRR was always going to require discussions on whether or not a more balanced fleet of aircraft might provide even greater flexibility for the operators. At RIAT and at their national resilience day EUROCOPTER UK have started to make a powerful case as to why the EC 145 T2 should be considered as an adjunct to the existing NPAS fleet and providing the Fire and Rescue Services in the United Kingdom an additional level of capability.