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New air ambulance helicopters launched for South Island service

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Two new air ambulance helicopters are being launched for South Island service today, the first time these highly-specified helicopters have been used in New Zealand for emergency medicine purposes.

New Zealand’s Health Minister Hon Dr David Clark unveiled the new Airbus H145 twin-engine helicopters in Christchurch this afternoon. The state-of-the-art aircraft, worth NZD15 million each, were delivered from Airbus in Germany and will start service tomorrow (14 August) with one based in Christchurch and the other in Dunedin.

The new South Island air ambulance services come after Dr Clark last year announced an agreement with Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand Limited (HEMS) to provide air ambulance services across the whole of the South Island. HEMS is a joint venture between two well-established existing providers, GCH Aviation with a new facility at Christchurch Airport, and Helicopters Otago based in Dunedin.

HEMS Chief Executive, Ken Franklin says the helicopters set a new benchmark for New Zealand’s air ambulance services. "We have highly skilled pilots and specially trained clinical crews in helicopters carrying the latest aviation and medical technology. These specially equipped aircraft will give clinical staff more room to provide vital patient care with the latest life-saving equipment. New technology on these aircraft combined with exclusive-use air routes will also enable missions to be flown safely in conditions that previously restricted the use of helicopters," he says.

While these helicopters will operate from Christchurch and Dunedin, the service will be supported with BK 117 aircraft and dedicated crew in bases at Nelson, Greymouth and Queenstown, with an at-call service available from Te Anau.

"HEMS, supported by existing charitable trusts and funds raised by communities throughout the south, is proud to be bringing such a significant advance to the provision of air ambulance services in New Zealand," Mr Franklin says.

Ministry of Health Group Manager for Community and Ambulance Services, Andrew Inder says the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO), on behalf of the Ministry of Health and ACC, aims to build a national integrated network of air ambulance services with dedicated crews available round the clock in fit-for-purpose helicopters.

"The aspiration is to bring an equity of access to emergency ambulance services for all communities, and to improve outcomes for patients. HEMS’ commissioning of these aircraft is a significant step toward that goal," Mr Inder says.

Before the unveiling event today, each helicopter was blessed by local iwi, Ngāi Tahu.

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