We have liftoff as chopper gets fund boost

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 17/01/2014
Maria Ramsay
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ
FLYING HIGH: The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter’s future is looking bright after two major funding organisations announced yesterday grants totalling $1.5 million had been approved, pictured from left, TSB Community Trust manager Maria Ramsay, rescue helicopter trust chairman Bryce Barnett and community trust chairman Hayden Wano.

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Two of Taranaki's major funding agencies have pledged more than a million dollars and climbed back on board to support the region's rescue helicopter.

In 2012 the service was in danger of being permanently grounded by a lack of funding after the Taranaki Electricity Trust and TSB Community Trust declined grants to cover operational costs.

However an announcement yesterday of significant long-term financial support from the two funding organisations, $875,000 from the community trust and TET $675,000 over a three-year period, was met with gratitude and appreciation by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Both trusts had recently granted $225,000 each to the service to assist with the cost of deferred maintenance and the balance will be paid over the next two years.

Chairman Bryce Barnett said late last year the trust presented the funders with a new strategy which saw a vote of confidence given back to the service.

"Our roots belong to Taranaki and with support from the region's two biggest financial backers we believe our partnership will provide our community with great benefit," he said.

"Yes we are back on track, but we intend to prove to our partners that we are ready to walk the walk and we feel we are right on track now with a strong base of certainty into our future."

While the contributions would cover the cost of a major engine overhaul required by the helicopter early next year, Mr Barnett said community fundraising remained vital to cover annual operational costs of $1.5 million.

"The positive news is that after this round of major maintenance the helicopter is good for another 4000 hours which is about 15 years of operational life."

Mr Barnett said the introduction of the Friends of the Rescue Helicopter programme in December 2013, where families support the helicopter for special benefits, had gone very well attracting more than 1000 families.

"These families are truly loyal supporters of their rescue helicopter - our Friends, our hard-working crew and staff as well as our amazing sponsors - these are the individuals and groups that enable Taranaki to own its own dedicated rescue helicopter."

He said the 178 patients transported in 2013 could testify the helicopter was a resource the region couldn't do without.

So far in 2014 the helicopter has flown 10 missions.

Community trust chairman Hayden Wano said it had always acknowledged the importance of the helicopter to the region. "There has never been any doubt that the community of Taranaki need and deserve to have a dedicated rescue helicopter," Mr Wano said.

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"The trust is pleased to say that we have such confidence in the Rescue Helicopter Trust moving forward that we have not only made a grant this year, but have made a provisional commitment to the Rescue Helicopter Trust for a further two years."

TET chairman Brian Jeffares said the trust was happy to again put its support behind the service. "TET have supported the rescue helicopter from day one and are pleased to be back on board with what is a crucial service for Taranaki," Mr Jeffares said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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