England

South West police helicopters part of national air service

Police helicopter
Image caption Police aircraft will remain in Devon, Dorset and near Bristol

Police forces in Devon & Cornwall, Dorset and Avon & Somerset are to lose their dedicated police helicopters under government changes.

Aircraft will remain in Devon, Dorset and near Bristol, but will serve as part of the National Police Air Service from next summer.

Critics said they feared aircraft crews would be stretched and any slower response times could endanger lives.

The government said the reorganisation would provide a better service.

Fewer flying hours

The new air service is replacing police helicopter operations in England and Wales for 43 forces, operating 25 aircraft at 23 bases.

The Devon & Cornwall, Dorset and Avon & Somerset forces each have their own aircraft, but the three are to become part of the national service from next summer.

The Devon & Cornwall aircraft, currently at the force's headquarters at Middlemoor in Exeter, is moving to Exeter Airport.

The Avon & Somerset helicopter will stay at Filton, near Bristol, but could fly fewer hours.

Dorset Police's helicopter, currently at the force's headquarters at Winfrith, will move to Bournemouth Airport.

The Dorset move has raised concerns in the west of the county because it is being moved about 20 miles (30km) east.

Save £15m

Bridport town councillor David Tett said: "My reactions to this were shock and complete surprise.

"I really feel that not enough thought has gone into this issue at all."

The government said the reorganisation would mean more aircraft could be kept available by the national co-ordinating of deployment and maintenance.

The Association of Chief Police Officers added it hoped that crews would have a 20-minute response times for 98% of the population.

The move is expected to save £15m a year as seven other air bases around the country are closed.

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