National Police Air Service – Launches today – Lies and spin 

There are some basic facts that need to be cleared up. You wouldn’t think “facts” needed clearing up would you because they are facts; the truth and therefore should be clear to all. Unfortunately Mr Green the Policing Minister has either been misinformed or is not telling the truth.

Starting with NPAS’s headline figure20-minute response times for 98% of the population” this is plain untrue and was based on flawed maths by people who didn’t understand what they were talking about at NPIA. Here’s how they worked it out. Find out how far a helicopter flies in one minute (2 miles) multiply that by 20 minutes = 40 miles now get a map of the UK and draw 40 mile radius circles around each of your proposed helicopter bases and see how much of the Country that covers – ooh looks great. Pat each other on back. I’ve seen the maps, this is what happened. The lie is that they are calling this the “response time” and it’s not, it is the flying time assuming (wrongly) that the helicopter is airborne over its base at the time of request and travelling at 120 kts towards the scene of the crime which plainly it isn’t. To use this figure is misleading nonsense. Response time is the time between a cop on the ground shouting up “get me a helicopter” and a helicopter arriving overhead.

Mr Green “They will be deployed faster and there will be more aircraft available to do it, so people will get a better service now”. Utter nonsense! Each police air support unit (not counting the Met) has an operations room at base where the “aircrew” monitor the radio channels around their force areas so that they hear a lot of jobs instantly the bobby says “get me a helicopter” or “vehicle failing to stop” or whatever we can then be airborne in 2 minutes. This is fast response air support, it’s a model that’s worked for over 20 years. We used to have a dedicated air support channel that any officer in the force could use to call us at base and brief us about a task. Dog handlers being deployed to burglaries in progress often changed channel to tell us about the incident directly, cutting out communications room delays and got us en route. The rest of the time the communications staff in control rooms around the County radio or phone the office directly, if we need any further info at that point to make a decision on we talk directly to the officer at the scene and get a full, proper briefing. This is how it should be, it’s fast and efficient and gets results. When I say results I mean results as cops understand them i.e. criminals arrested not as government and ACPO understand them i.e. result = money saved. 

Obviously someone has to QA deployments as helicopters are expensive to fly. Until now that task has fallen to the highly experienced crews who fly in the aircraft and know exactly what their machine and search equipment are capable of. We often have to decline to attend and cops on the ground find this frustrating but it’s a limited resource, expensive to run and the cops in the aircraft know when they can and can’t help.

Under NPAS the deployment model looks like this

Response PC in rural town says “get me a helicopter” – local comms staff send an extract of the incident log electronically to a control room in Bradford where a civilian comms operator with no air support knowledge or expertise reads the incident and compares it to a “deployment criteria” they were given this week and tries to tick all the boxes that mean she can deploy a helicopter. If the log isn’t clear about what’s going on (and they often aren’t in the chaos of the first few minutes of an incident” they will send the log electronically back to the local comms operator with some questions typed on and ask for clarification. The local comms operator who is now up to their neck in local cops calling up with details of suspects being chased or running a pursuit commentary is then expected to get the answers from the cops at the scene, type them back on the log and re-send it to Yorkshire. Assuming there are no more questions and the NPAS operator is now satisfied of the need to deploy an aircraft he/she will try and work out where on a map of the UK rural town is and then work out which is the nearest aircraft. If you were asked to point to the village of Burton Leonard on a map would you be able to? quickly I mean, fast response quickly. How quickly could you access a system that told you it’s in North Yorkshire and then access another system to show you if any aircraft are nearby and if not find out which air base is nearest to assist the officers trying to track a farmer with a shotgun across fields when he’s lost the plot and is about to do something terrible.They will be deployed faster” utter nonsense!

I spoke to some colleagues at Greater Manchester air support unit recently and heard how they were listening on one of their local radio talkgroups when they heard the report of shots fired and officers down in Mottram. They responded immediately and where overhead the scene in minutes. Unfortunately on this occasion no speed of response was going to save Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes but if things had worked out differently, if Dale Cregan had got in his car and gone on a wild chase instead of going to Hyde police station the aircraft would have been there to make sure he didn’t get away. I worry about this new despatch system, it can’t work in the way it should and officers on the ground will suffer for it.

Mr Green “They will be deployed faster and there will be more aircraft available to do it, so people will get a better service now.”

There will be less aircraft! 25 reduced from 31 – enough said on that point.

There will be more helicopters available more of the time because you’ve got the resilience of having a national structure,” said Mr Green. WRONG! There will be less helicopters available for less time. Take the North West region as an example. A couple of years ago there were 5 aircraft covering 5 counties. This was probably one too many as Cheshire and North Wales have a low demand and could maybe have shared one. In any case 3 of those 5 aircraft were on duty 24hrs a day. Today there are 4 helicopters covering 5 Counties and only one of them covers 24 hours, the other 3 provide 20 hour cover, this was as a result of regionalisation in preparation for NPAS next year. So how will this improve further under NPAS? Will the north west have “more helicopters available more of the time” No. The number of aircraft will stay at it’s reduced level and the 20 hour units will be cut again to 19 hours losing 1095 hours of aircraft availability each year for NO additional cost saving.

Chief Constable Alex Marshall said of the old system: “Artificial boundaries have meant that helicopters are restricted to operating within their own force area or consortia”.

That’s just not true. Air Support Units within regions have for many years had mutual aid arrangements to cover for each other during aircraft maintenance. For years we have attended lots of incidents in neighbouring force areas when incidents have needed cover, no restrictions. Making the areas of response bigger wont make it more efficient or make helicopters able to respond to tasks outside their regions because “they don’t have the endurance” they can’t carry enough fuel for bigger response areas. It’s a fact, they can’t fly to far flung places and then do a search because they will run out of fuel and have to go back to base as soon as they get on scene.

The main stay of borderless tasking rests on the idea that if one aircraft is operating near the edge of it’s old County border and an incident occurs just over the border they will be able to respond quicker than the aircraft based in that county. It is true that in the past, on very rare occasions, we might go to a job 20 miles from our base and realise that another force’s aircraft was operating 10 miles away. Could they have got to the scene quicker than us? Well possibly they could if they weren’t already dealing with their own incident. They could go to our job when they had finished their job but we would probably have arrived by then anyway. The point is, helicopters aren’t floating around aimlessly, if they are deployed on a task then can they be deployed on another task? The new control room in Yorkshire has been given a flow diagram to enable them to work out if they can remove an aircraft from one task and send them to another task. If they can’t decide what to do they refer it upwards to a silver commander for a decision (tick tock) and when they finally decide to divert the aircraft to the new task they will inform the aircrew (who are the only ones who can see the fuel gauges) and get told “we’ve been on task here for an hour and a half and will need fuel before going anywhere else, can you get the other aircraft to go?” Maybe should have asked the people that know first.

 “This is a police-driven decision. They wanted a national air service because they knew they could provide a better service with this type of structure than the previous fragmented structure we had.”

This is a money based decision, pure and simple. If they had wanted a more efficient and cheaper police-driven model I could have given them one and it wouldn’t have involved an NPIA team working for three years to deliver this model.

The trouble is they will fail on both counts. Police air support will be worse and they wont save money. Already NPAS are having to employ people that weren’t previously part of an air support budget, we never had our own comms staff (except the Met), never needed them, now we have a comms room and operators as an air support cost. We have a Flight Operations Director, ex pilot, earns a very large wage now. NPAS recently advertised two new posts, a procurement officer and something else we never had before at £40,000 each. There is a Chief Super and a Super involved at West Yorks and there will be other posts creeping in as they find they are needed. Pretty soon the potential savings will be gone.

Does air support matter? Lots of cops say they can’t get it when they want it, that’s because it’s in demand elsewhere because it is effective. This week I saw about 8 response officers struggling and failing to find a house burglar who had run off into gardens, we can’t afford to have this many staff tied up, we don’t have enough cops anymore. We turned up and found the burglar hiding in bushes, he got arrested and everyone else got on with other jobs. I also arrived over a scene following a pursuit in a rural area where a number of officers where staring into the blackness of open fields where their offenders had run to. They were awaiting one of the scarce dog patrols to arrive. We found the suspects ¼ mile from the scene hiding in a ditch and talked the dog handler to them with other officers. We pinpointed the suspects so they didn’t have to search for them, lit the area with a searchlight so the officers could go safely and made sure there were no unpleasant surprises like getting ambushed in the dark. 2 arrested and everyone gets to go do other things. This is run of the mill every day stuff but think back to the London riots or the student demos. How many of the worst offenders at the student demos where caught as a result of footage from the helicopters analysed after the event to see who was chucking concrete blocks etc? Air support has its place, it’s a valuable asset and I fear it is about to be reduced in effectiveness.

I know for a fact that during my time on air support I have taken action that has saved lives. These are not the sort of “lives saved” by speeding campaigns etc that the police talk about i.e. notional lives in notional accidents that might have happened, these are real lives, people whose names I can tell you, people who were in the process of dying who we saved (even if some of them didn’t want saving)

PC’s in air support today all suspect that NPAS is a pre-cursor to civilianising the service. Gathering everything together in one unit makes it easier to put out for tender later so that one of the big private companies can take over. The experienced officers who do such a good job will be replaced by civilian operators to save money.

Our old friend Tom Windsor has recommended that Police Tactical Flight Officer is not on the list of “specialist roles” under his reforms and therefore won’t be eligible for the top rate of pay for constable after 2016.(Seriously Tom Is there a more specialist role in the police?) This means that if police officers choose to stay in air support roles after 2016 they will have their wages cut by £5000 a year. Clearly this will be unaffordable for most and they will leave the service and return to other forms of policing. No new police officers are going to apply for a role in air support and take a £5000 pay cut as an incentive so the only option will be to recruit civilian staff – job done by 2017




  1. ExTrafficBiker · · Reply

    I agree with every word of this. Having used XA99 from all sides – on Traffic, in the control room and actually on board the aircraft itself (I was applying for the Air Observer job) – I can say, hand on heart, that it is (was) the most useful piece of kit ever. It will be sorely missed.

  2. inspectorgadget · · Reply

    Excellent and more detailed post than mine!! I will tweet this link and hopefully some MSM will pick it up instead of slavishly following the press release spin.

    1. Thanks IG
      Will I have to go into hiding like you and Lord Lucan then?

  3. PC Angry · · Reply

    Should be sent to every newspaper in the UK!

  4. The PiggyFish · · Reply

    Very true. And sadly, like every other scheme, the knowledge and experience of people like yourself, not to mention what is fecking obvious to the most untrained eye, is completely ignored.
    It won’t save money. It won’t provide a better service.
    It will provide some private individuals with new well-paid jobs, and lucrative govt contracts for running a much-needed service very badly. TJF!

  5. Not Long Now · · Reply

    I couldn’t have written such a clear or cogent article myself, but if I had, I’d have written THIS article. I can honestly say that in my near 30 years of experience, Air Support is one of the most effective police units there is. The main problem is usually the lack of availability because they are being used elsewhere! Sure, they have limitations and aren’t the answer to every situation, but when used properly they are superb!

    The government and their weasel friends in ACPO are simply LYING with this new service. I can accept that money is very tight, we can argue about the reason for that, but why di they have to LIE.

  6. Pleb and Proud · · Reply

    Great blog …its doing the rounds on #twitter thanks

  7. Henry Brubaker · · Reply

    Excellent post, you clearly know your stuff. Unlike those in charge….

  8. Spot on.

    Although while I’m sure demand in Cheshire and North Wales is relatively low compared to, say, Merseyside and GMP, I’m still not sure we’d have been able to cope with one helicopter between us.

    1. To clarify – I agree with you but looking at your region before last year if someone had said you absolutely have to lose one of the 5 aircraft in that region to save money then based purely on demand not many people would have picked Merseyside to be shut but I do also recognise base positioning, age of aircraft and other factors may have played a part.

  9. Moonraker · · Reply

    Some time retired but always thankfull for your attendance when needed. Have always followed the mantra that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it shame Green thinks differantly. You are right though it is being set up for privatisation has all the hallmarks.

  10. riversidemale · · Reply

    I agree with every word written and this needs to be aired to the General Public. It is yet another example of the destruction of the Police Service. I’m now retired and can honestly say that India 99 (Met) helped me and my fellow officers out on numerous jobs. I feel for you all and am thankfull I am now out.
    Stay save and don’t let the bastards get you down.

  11. coconuttty · · Reply

    One of the biggest problems with the comments in the above Opening post, is that whilst the vast majority of Specialist Police Air Support staff ( and I am one of them ) will wholeheartedly agree with every single comment made, the people who really matter, namely the Police Officers on the ground, AND the General Public in or communities have absolutely no idea of what is happening, and how “their” Police Air Support Service is being affected. They don’t know because no-one has consulted or informed them, and the whoel project has been kept “Restricted” from outside debate. The ( former ) Policing Minister Nick Herbert ignored valid concerns raised by numerous Police authorities, and senior members of staff within Police Air Support over the way NPAS was being set up, and consistently failing to demonstrate exactly HOW the initial objectives of improving efficiency and saving money would be achieved. Instead the Policing Minister, with support from the Government, simply invoked a Law compelling all Police Forces to collaborate and sign up to NPAS whether they wanted to or not, and for it to be in place before the next general Election when it will be too late to do anything about it !

    1. Eranu indeed · · Reply

      I’ve ten years as a TFO and my unit is closing under NPAS.
      Winsor2 means I can’t afford to stay flying so I’m leaving. My ten years of skills are now lost. It’s such an extreme specialism that most of my skills aren’t transferable.
      Yes I’m still a cop and will be able to pick up beat work and drive a panda. But that’s a massive waste of my previous ten years. I have another ten years to go, I’m at the top of my game, and my unit pulls in good results daily. I had a lot to offer police aviation.
      RIP my unit, and the same to police aviation generally. The day to day to police work (ie catching baddies) is about to disappear, replaced by box ticking exercises across the counties.

      1. That’s a sad and crappy state of affairs. Thank You for all your service.

  12. Thefatblokeintheback · · Reply

    The points in this are well made but I feel the following should be mentioned.

    Nobody who matters, actually cares; Nobody who actually cares, matters.

    With the drop in wages, the current observers will leave the job, take their pension and get a job as a civvy observer. When even they are too old to do this any more, where will the next generation come from?

    Questions may well be asked when this NPAS bollocks turns out to be Balloons and Mirrors, or maybe Balloons looking in Mirrors. However, please tell me a time when someone, anyone in Government has been called to task, found wanting and then suffered……

    Minister “resign” in shame….. but they only resign as Ministers, not as MPs. Look at Mandleson, where’s the disgrace got him?

    Do any of you really believe that arses will be felt over this? Get real. NPAS comes from the folk who gave us (or built for us, with our money) the Millennium Dome and the Olympics. Not to mention the Airwave platform that is too expensive to use properly.

    T J’s F’d

  13. Reblogged this on retiredandangry and commented:
    This article just about says it all, ConDem spin supported by ACPO, even I know that 25 is less than 31 and that 20 is less than 24

    1. and 19 is less than 20. Thanks for reblogging.

  14. Mark of the Yard · · Reply

    This is yet again another money saving, politics shafting the police and the public they are serving under the guise of saving the public money!

    Essex Police has been restructured and restructured again; at a cost of thousands and officers posted to the arse end of their limit of posting, the horses are being disbanded again and they are running a no boundary response system, so any unit will respond to any call in any area. They are also now being deployed in lieu of ambulance shortages; One area in the North of the County had to wait for an ambulance coming from Norfolk.!!!!

    The reduction of police services is disgusting and this new air service is a farce; Sussex responded to a call in Essex and because it was too late for them to fly back, had to be driven back to their base!? So that unit was now out of service longer that it should be, as someone would have to drive them back there in the morning to collect it!?

    Seeing any cost savings yet?

  15. Met 2 SA · · Reply

    As another response officer I just wish we had more of you, not less.

    As you pointed out results mean something different to police, than they do to politicians.

  16. Reblogged this on WrAnTz and commented:
    As a member fo the public I am disgusted with the way that the police are treated in general. I am disgusted that we as a nation expect more from our police forces and then expect them to do it with less. This post has highlighted how misinformation can distort ones view. Thank you for clarifying.

  17. More ConDem bollocks!!!!

  18. Flying boots hung up · · Reply

    Very interesting. So what is here to stop every observer declaring that they are frightened of flying and wish to returning to other duties as soon as possible? That would bring air support to a halt in about three seconds, and on second number four the “managers” would wake up and realise that had millions tied up in helicopters…and no-one to crew them. It’s industrial action without taking industrial action and I don’t know why they haven’t done it before.

  19. This scheme is a classic piece of command and control bollocks which will cost more and be less efficient. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Systems Thinking could have told them this. Ask Insp Simon Guilfoyle of West Mids (he has his own blog. have a look if you’ve not seen it).

    The post is as good a demolition of the police Command and Control management style as you will see. The author doesn’t need to refer to Systems Thinking because it is in fact common sense, although decades of Whitehall driven management dogma mean people keep making foolish errors like this whilst thinking they are being “modern” and efficient.

    I’m so angry I could throw my pot noodle at the screen.

  20. John Doe · · Reply

    An excellent article. In the North West, incidents attended and hours flown in support of Merseyside Police are down about 30% on what they were getting, and also by a similar amount for GMP and Lancs strangely enough. The winners were Cheshire who went fro having an aircraft available for only 12 hours a day, now have 24 hour access.

  21. lanceleuven · · Reply

    Thanks for informing us of the other side of this story.

  22. Ron King · · Reply

    I fully agree with all said. For my local force I believe other factor will reduce the coverage even further and no doubt there are other similar possibles elsewhere in the country.

    Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire were covered by two helo’s, H900 at Shoreham and OS99 at Odiham. And it worked most of the time. In fact when I was a controller I recall diverting OS99 to cover a “fail to stop SMV” that H900 could have done but as OS99 was airbourne with reasonable fuel and nearby I asked them to cover and they did, and got a result as well. Also had both dealing with separate jobs with 5 miles of each other, bet you won’t get that now.

    OS99 has gone and H900 has moved to Redhill and what I fear now is that H900 will be tasked to cover South London and Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire will become poor neighbours as a result.

  23. […] National Police Air Service launches today – lies and spin […]

  24. Retired Talking Baggage. · · Reply

    As the effectiveness of air support slides demand from officers and forces will fall and NPAS could wither on the vine. Fantastic savings……..Shameful!

  25. David Windebank · · Reply

    From a mere civilian.Thank you for the full details, free from spin. As already stated, this should be given maximum publicity. Will it? I think not. I daily thank God for you Ladies and Gents. The best service in the world, sadly let down by those in power.

  26. Reblogged this on Constable Chaos – UK Police Blog and commented:
    I’ve reblogged this exdcellent and informative piece onto my website for info as cuts to Police Helicopter Services seem to be cropping up again

  27. […] The issue was covered in considerable detail by ‘PoliceAirCrew’ in their blog on the subject A Comment on Police Air Support […]

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