Chopper funds axed

Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014
Westpac Cuts

CHOPPER CUTS: Westpac rescue helicopter crew chief Herby Barnes says funding cuts haven’t affected rescues yet but have impacted on maintenance and training.

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Rescue operations by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter have doubled in five years but its funding has been slashed by 70 per cent since 2008.

Helicopter crew chief Herby Barnes of Silverdale says changes to funding contracts mean every time the chopper lifts off it loses money.

There were 923 callouts in 2013 and 10 per cent were in Rodney. So far this year there have been 42 callouts to Rodney and the Hibiscus Coast, Mr Barnes says.

This is a 43 per cent increase from the 18 rescues made from January to March 2013.

Running costs also rise every year, Mr Barnes says.

"The more missions we do, the less money we get back for it."

Frontline staff are now finding they have to try and raise more money from sponsors and donors to keep going.

Mr Barnes says the situation isn't affecting the core service of saving people - yet. But it has impacted on staff training and helicopter maintenance, he says.

The Auckland Helicopter Trust is partly funded by the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board which has cut contributions by around 70 per cent to $450,000 over a period of six years.

Funding for the arts has increased in this time.

Helicopter trust chairman Murray Bolton says the service is the only one of 10 regional amenities to have had its funding cut.

He says it is taking court action in a bid to try and reverse the situation.

But board member Grant Lilly says the service runs its business well and "money is allocated to perceived need".

Other amenities funded by the board include the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Auckland Theatre Company.

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- Rodney Times

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