by Des Ryan
If, as an Auckland sailor, you thought that there would be a rescue helicopter there - even an aging one - if ever you needed one, think again. The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust is facing such a massive cut in government funding that future operations could be in doubt.
Will that sailing boat be able to rely on these BK117’s in the future?
As for replacing the aging helicopters with more modern ones, that's even more problematic. According to Aviation Today,
in the last two years the funding has been cut by a whopping NZ$570,000 in the last two years, from NZ$1.2 to NZ$450,000 for 2014/5.
The trust provides the Westpac Rescue service, operating two BK117 helicopters on rescue missions in the greater Auckland region. The service has been running for more than 40 years.
The trust had requested NZ$1.35 million for 2014/15 and has warned that it is considering further legal action – it launched legal action following the 2013/14 budget cuts.
In 2009, its funding was NZ$1.5 million, and since then its service has doubled. According to its 2013 annual report, the service conducted 814 missions in the 12 months to 31 March 2013 – an increase of 46 missions the previous year. In particular, there was a significant increase in accident retrievals.
The trust notes it is heavily dependent on community and corporate support in order to ensure its services continue. The funding cut for 2013/14 had already placed 'undue pressure' on its fundraising team and meant there was 'a degree of uncertainty as to the level of future services', it says.
'Looking ahead, our two helicopters – built in 1988 and 1991 – are becoming more expensive to maintain, operate and keep safe. We have refurbished them over the years, but given their age, we need to replace them in order to continue to provide a safe, outstanding and essential rescue service,' says Murray Bolton, chairman of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.