Police air support in the UK operated by the National Police Air Service (NPAS) is set to become 24/7 all-weather capable for the first time with the introduction of fixed wing aircraft. NPAS has ordered four Vulcanair P.68Rs to expand its fleet, which at the moment only includes EC135s and MD 900s. The latest aircraft will serve the whole of England and Wales.
Each P.68R is to include camera and mapping systems for use during police tasks. Once in service, they will replace four helicopters, and it is anticipated that they will provide at least 80 per cent of the helicopters' capability, with each unit costing roughly two thirds less to purchase and fly than its rotary counterpart.
The contract to purchase and modify the aircraft has been awarded to Airborne Technologies in Austria, which will upgrade them with technology such as the Wescam MX10 camera and CarteNav mapping.
West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson comments: “This is another milestone in the development of NPAS, which is a national service I am responsible for delivering along with West Yorkshire Police as the lead body. We have been successful in securing Home Office capital funding to make NPAS a 24/7 all-weather capable fleet and this is a real step forward for us; it is an investment in the future of policing across England and Wales.
“While helicopters are very flexible, there are conditions in which they are sometimes unable to fly, such as heavy fog, if visibility is too badly affected. The P.68Rs are true all-weather machines and can guarantee operations at any time of the day, on all days. The introduction of fixed wing will contribute 14 per cent budget savings to the public purse annually.”
Accountable officer Ian Whitehouse adds: “Fixed wing aircraft are capable of being airborne for longer periods when compared with helicopters, which means they have an increased range and will potentially be airborne already when assistance is required. By operating a mixed fleet of helicopters and aircraft we feel the service will be better balanced than before.”