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Wales Air Ambulance transitions to Gama for air support
Gama Aviation has taken to the skies in support of the Wales Air Ambulance. With four H145s, it is giving the charity a consistent fleet of advanced helicopters to deliver Wales' vital air ambulance service.
Gama Aviation has worked with all stakeholders to transition the aviation service and is taking on the responsibilities to the Charity earlier than scheduled.

Following last February's successful bid for a seven year contract, Gama Aviation is now providing helicopter support services to the air ambulance in Wales.

The contract, valued at $82 million, covers the operation and maintenance of a primary fleet of four Airbus H145 helicopters operating from the Wales Air Ambulance Charity's current sites in Dafen, Cardiff, Caernarfon and Welshpool. It additionally includes a backup H145 helicopter to ensure service continuity during periods of maintenance for the primary fleet. The previous provider, Babcock International, had three H145s and one smaller EC135 helicopter.

Gama Aviation was due to start operations on 1 January, 2024, with the previous contract ending on 31 December. However, to avoid such a complex process taking place over the Christmas and New Year holidays, all parties agreed to bring forward the transition date. As a result, Gama has now taken full control of the operation and maintenance of the charity's fleet of aircraft.

CEO Marwan Khalek says: "We have worked hard with all stakeholders to transition the aviation service, and I'm delighted that we are able to take up our responsibilities to the charity and the people of Wales earlier than scheduled. As we bring the service online in a safe, orderly fashion, I'm sure many will notice suitable differences, whether it is the new aircraft livery with its proud depiction of the charity's strong Welsh identity, or new pilot flight suits that use a combination of red and black to aid identification at the scene of an incident. We will continue to explore ways to support Wales Air Ambulance's lifesaving mission."

David Gilbert, Wales Air Ambulance chair of trustees, adds: "This has been a complex 12 month transition process and I would like to thank all those involved; our outgoing and incoming aviation partners and our medical partners, the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service. We are also pleased to see that a majority of the pilots and engineers who worked with Wales Air Ambulance as part of the previous contract will be joining Gama Aviation to continue working with our lifesaving service. It just goes to show how passionate they are about serving Wales and saving lives. Gama Aviation is a forward-thinking and ambitious company, and we look forward to working with it in the years to come. We would also like to thank our outgoing aviation provider for their support of the service over the past seven years."

The Wales Air Ambulance has also taken on the direct lease for three of the H145s. CEO Dr Sue Barnes explains: "Our historical contracts saw our suppliers holding the leases for all aircraft. That felt like a potential risk to our services, particularly at a time of global uncertainty. So, to protect our lifesaving service, the trustees agreed that three of the aircraft in our service will be leased directly to the charity. Therefore, Gama Aviation will operate and maintain four aircraft, plus a backup helicopter, on behalf of the charity but the charity will be the direct leaseholder for three of them."

Seven years on from the last aviation contract procurement process, a like-for-like aviation service now totals around $4 million more per annum.

Dr Barnes adds: "Our aim is always to protect our services for the people of Wales while continually seeking improvements in service and availability. We agreed that, despite the significant increase in operational cost, the right thing to do was to maintain our existing fleet rather than reduce it. We now need to raise $14.2 million every year to cover the cost of the aviation operation and maintenance, the direct lease of three of the aircraft, our fleet of rapid response vehicles and fuel. It's a big target to reach but, with the passionate and ongoing support from the people of Wales, we believe that we can rise to the challenge together."

The transition comes during an independent review of the charity's NHS medical partners, and this has been reflected in the new aviation contract, which can adapt to potential future service delivery changes if required (revised base locations, revised operational hours, enhanced after-dark flying).

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