Thousands of fundraisers, years of planning and one handwritten masterstroke from a famous former cricketer have culminated in a gleaming multimillion pound aircraft.
The £6million Airbus H145 helicopter was unveiled by Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA) staff, fundraisers and ex-England batsman Geoffrey Boycott at the charity’s Nostell Priory base in Wakefield yesterday.
Boycott became one of the organisation’s newest patrons last year after a letter he personally sent to Chancellor George Osborne resulted in Government making a £1million donation to the charity.
The seven-figure donation came after years of building up charity reserves in the hope of funding two new aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of helicopters, which were bought second-hand a decade ago.
The first of two new Airbus helicopters, which have top speeds of 160mph, was unveiled in full air ambulance yellow livery yesterday following its delivery late last month.
Its first operational flights will have to wait, however, as the state-of-the-art chopper is due to have a specially designed medical interior fitted before it takes to the skies to save lives for the first time in August.
Speaking at the unveiling, Boycott, who played 108 times for his country, explained that his now famed letter to the Chancellor was a well-timed long shot following his own fundraiser which helped the YAA to the tune of £35,000.
“I thought, ‘I have nothing to offer but some coaching at number 11 for your boy or I could get you into a test match, although I’m sure you could get in as Chancellor already’ but in the end he said he would give a million,” he said. “It’s the best letter I’ve written in my life.”
That letter enabled charity bosses to physically order the new equipment that they had dreamed of straight away – the second Airbus chopper is due to land in Yorkshire in Spring 2017.
YAA’s new helicopter will offer more cabin space, better fuel economy that will enable it to carry out 30 per cent more missions and the opportunity to rescue people at night, which its predecessors can not.
Pete Vallance, YAA clinical operations manager, said the new Airbus is hoped to enable the service to operate from 6am to midnight all year round whereas at present flight hours in winter months can be limited due to a lack of daylight.
“There have been quite a lot of advancements. It can be quite difficult to fit everything into the current aircraft and carry out the treatments and interventions,” he said. “This will future-proof us for 10 years.”
The YAA was founded in 2000, initially leasing an old helicopter and running from a portable cabin at Leeds Bradford Airport.
Now it runs from two sites, carrying out around 1,000 lifesaving missions a year, and needs £12,000 every day to keep its helicopters in the air.
Charity chairman Peter Sunderland MBE said: “It’s a charity that’s grown from being embryonic in 2000 to where we are today.
“We seem to be able to get this message across to the people of Yorkshire that this is their helicopter and each day one to three people who go to work or go out on a visit or who might be visitors to Yorkshire wont go home at night. They will be taken by one of these helicopters to a major trauma centre and hopefully they will be saved.”
The unveiling comes at a time when the YAA’s emergency service offering is changing. A new partnership with the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust and NHS commissioners launched in April, which is seeing a ‘critical care team’ of 11 consultants in emergency medicine and anaesthesia work on the charity’s helicopters every day of the year. The formal move allows extra drugs to be carried on board and lifesaving procedures to be carried out at the scene of incidents.
Dr Jez Pinnell, medical advisor to YAA and consultant anaesthetist, said: “It’s a new era for the air ambulance, having a consultant with critical care and pre-hospital care skills as part of the team just enhances what we can do. It will really benefit patients.”