The Midlands Air Ambulance is buying a new £4.5 million helicopter to respond to night-time incidents for the first time, it was revealed today.
One of the charity’s three aircraft will be replaced and kitted out with new equipment as part of plans that will cost an extra £1.6m a year.
The helicopter will be used from September 2013, when the charity will begin its full night-time flying service.
The charity, which is based in Brierley Hill and is celebrating its 21st anniversary, currently only carries out operations in daylight. But this new aircraft will enable staff to respond 24 hours a day.
It is likely to be kept at RAF Cosford, where many of the fleet’s doctors are based.
Bosses say recent trials have shown that there is a demand for rescue operations to be carried out at night.
The fleet started out with just one aircraft in 1991 but has since expanded and has responded to more than 38,000 call-outs to date, making it the busiest and largest air ambulance operator in England and Wales.
The charity will need to pay a deposit of about £1m on the new helicopter and then pay off the rest in instalments over a number of years. The fleet will continue to be operated by Bond Air Services. Hanna Sebright, chief executive of Midlands Air Ambulance, said “The purchase of our first new aircraft marks another significant milestone in our history.
“I cannot emphasise strongly enough - none of this would have been possible without the support of the public that support our life saving service.
“With the on-going support of the public across our region, we will continue look at new and innovative ways to provide the very best in patient care in situations of major trauma.”
With demand for a helicopter to attend 999 emergencies rising by around 10 per cent every year, bosses recently admitted the charity is under increasing financial pressure.
But they say the new night-time service will help save lives.
New fundraising schemes include a bi-annual skydive, along with abseiling events and even charity go-karting, as well as the lottery, which has grown in popularity from 400 members two years ago to 26,000 today, bringing in a much-needed £500,000 a year.
The charity has also suffered from the spiralling fuel costs and flight duty.
Figures showed on average, each mission attended by the air ambulance costs around £2,000 – up from £1,500 just six months.