Copper chopper chopped

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THE police helicopter service for the county could be axed as part of a major new scheme,

Local forces would instead rely on a national scheme, with Hertfordshire police paying £260,000 less per year towards air support, but a replacement service could take up to five minutes longer to reach emergency situations.

Hertfordshire police has signed up to the National Police Air Service (NPAS) project, a move that would see the nearest operating base of RAF Henlow closed in less than two years.

Currently the county has access to two helicopters, which are managed through the Chilterns Air Support Unit (ASU).

The ASU is an arrangement with Thames Valley and Bedfordshire police forces, with one aircraft based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire and another based at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire.

At the moment police helicopters can reach incidents in an average of 15 minutes. but staggered shift patterns mean that aircraft are only available 85 per cent of the time.

A Hertfordshire Police Authority spokesman said: “Under the new proposals aircraft could take up to 20 minutes to respond, but there will be continuous coverage 24/7.

“We believe this is an efficient and effective way to move forward.”

The shift will hopefully save Hertfordshire police around £125,000 each year.

NPAS will see the aircraft at RAF Henlow withdrawn in 2013, with aircraft being made available from bases at Lippetts Hill, RAF Benson and Southend 24 hours a day.

It is hoped the shift will save 20 per cent for all police forces that join NPAS, but police chiefs are adamant that changes are not being made just to save funds.

Chief Constable Alex Marshall, ACPO lead for the National Police Air Support, said: “NPAS is not merely a cost saving exercise.

“A truly national, borderless service will ensure effective coverage of urban and rural areas.”