Taranaki has enough helicopters to respond to emergencies if the trust that operates the region's rescue helicopter goes broke, a local flying ace says.
The Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter Trust is in financial strife which could see its chopper permanently grounded if a major sponsor is not found in the next few months.
The trust has recently been declined grants valued at $400,000.
Alan Beck, of Beck Helicopters in Eltham, said if the trust was to wind up, local commercial operators could respond to emergencies.
"If we were rung, man we are out there, there is enough fire power here to do all that is required except for hospital transfers," said Mr Beck, who flew rescue missions around Taranaki for more than 20 years before the trust was set up in 1992.
Mr Beck believed it was uneconomical for the trust to operate a twin-engined machine for the amount of work it did.
"If you want to conduct emergency flights we can carry on doing that today, into New Plymouth hospital.
"There really is no problem, they just want to run a Lamborghini when a Holden ute or a Toyota would have done the job."
Chairman Mark Masters said the trust had no option but to get the twin-engined chopper to comply with Civil Aviation Authority rules.
The helicopter cost about $4000 an hour to operate, but the trust only received about half that amount for work done for the Taranaki District Health Board, police and Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
"We need 60 per cent of our funding from sources other than those agencies because when we are not used we don't get paid, but we still have to be there," Mr Masters said.
He said the service desperately needed a major financial backer before the end of the year.
"[The staff] are still being paid and we can see our way to continue paying them until about Christmas but after that point in time, if we don't receive a substantial commitment of funding from somewhere, we will have no option but to close the operation down."
Mr Masters said the trust has investigated its options including amalgamating with the Philips Search and Rescue Trust, which operates five rescue helicopters in the central North Island, but they were not viable.
TDHB general manager hospital and specialist services, Rosemary Clements, wanted to reassure the community its patients would continue to get appropriate clinical care and transportation.
"Should it become necessary, there are other air providers we could work with to ensure Taranaki maintains a timely clinically appropriate inter-hospital transfer service,” Mrs Clements said.
"We value the work that Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust does - last year they carried out 73 of our 665 air transfers and retrievals equating to 11 per cent of the total for the year."
A Westpac spokeswoman said the bank had helped raise $60,000 for the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter over the past four years, through the Westpac Chopper Appeal, and was a big supporter of rescue helicopters nationally: "We haven't received anything from the trust as yet, but will be happy to look at anything that comes through," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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