THE cost of running Wiltshire’s air ambulance will rise from £700,000 to £2.5m a year as it parts company from the police force.

The current helicopter has been shared by the two services for the past 23 years, but that will end in December after the Government decided that all police forces will be part of a National Police Air Service where helicopters are shared between police forces.

On Tuesday, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust (WAACT) signed a 10-year contract with Heli Charter, Bell’s UK agent, to lease a Bell 429 helicopter.

All the money needed to maintain the new service will have to be raised by the charity, as it receives no funding from Government, but chairman Richard Youens said he was confident it could be done with the support of the public.

“We have increased our fundraising staff and I think we will be able to raise the £2.5m, but it’s going to be hard work and we need to keep the air ambulance in the front of people’s minds all the time,” he said.

“It seems to be at the front of people’s minds whenever I talk to people. It’s a very popular charity in Wiltshire and we need it. In Wiltshire there’s a lot of open space that road ambulances can’t get to.”

He added that the charity already has £2.5m in reserves and last year raised £1.9m.

The helicopter will be the first Bell 429 to operate as an air ambulance in the UK.

The charity said it is the newest and most advanced machine in service and will be able to fly at night, as the current helicopter does. There are currently 50 operating as air ambulances worldwide including ten in Europe. WAACT spent 18 months reviewing what type of helicopter to select and three helicopter providers were shortlisted and invited to tender for the contract.

The hours of operation are still to be finalised but the charity’s chief executive, David Philpott, said at the moment the default position is 19 hours a day, the same as the shared police helicopter, and it will be operational 365 days a year.

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust will continue to provide paramedics for the service, while Heli Charter will provide the pilots. The base for the service has yet to be confirmed, but Mr Youens said he would like it to be at the current base of the shared helicopter at Wiltshire Police’s headquarters in Devizes.

If that proves impossible, the charity has identified 12 potential sites nearby.