A new charity-funded helicopter based in the north east of the UK has clocked on for its first shift. Christened the Guardian of the North II, it will be based at the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) base near Eaglescliffe, Stockton. The five million GBP aircraft will work across the charity's entire area, which includes Cumbria and North Yorkshire as well as the north east.
The Dauphin N3+ helicopter is the newer version of the charity's existing aircraft, which are around 30 years old. It is equipped with modern equipment, has more powerful engines and a new interior layout which will give the charity's doctors and paramedics better access to patients.
GNAAS operations director Andy Mawson says: “This aircraft is only five years old and has had very little flying, so we were delighted to get her for the price. The additional power and range will give us a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to responding to serious incidents. This aircraft will mean the difference between life and death for some people out there.”
Chief pilot Jay Steward adds: “I can't wait to get started. The testing has all gone well, and we think she'll add another dimension to the work we do in the region.”
The arrival of the Guardian of the North II marks the culmination of the charity's relocation project. Its base at Teesside International airport just closed. Last year, the charity's administrative and fundraising staff moved from offices in Darlington and Newton Aycliffe to its new site at Urlay Nook, Eaglescliffe.
Mawson continues: “The relocation was paid for through charity reserves and grant funding. The money savings from combining three sites into one will help keep this new aircraft flying when she is needed throughout the region, though as ever we're going to need help from the public over the years to come.”
The impact of coronavirus on fundraising activity means the charity has lost an estimated 100,000 GBP a month in income. In June, donations were at a third of last year's levels. The charity is asking members of the public to continue their support where possible in order to sustain the new aircraft and its crew. It has also put two of its older aircraft up for sale.
It received a timely boost this week after announcing the successful application of a 520,000 GBP grant from the Department of Health and Social Care, as part of a government funding package for the UK air ambulance community.
Mr Mawson said: “This is welcome news, but the fundraising battle is far from over. Keeping our team flying needs the support of everyone in the region. They've never let us down, and we hope they don't now.”