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The Government decision not to replace Royal Navy and RAF Sea King helicopters, due to be phased out by 2016, for search and rescue (SAR) operations, should be seen as an opportunity to harmonise the UK's helicopter emergency services and set up a National Air Service, according to a new Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) report.

Blue light Air Assets: Cost-effective Operations for the future analyses the practicalities of pooling helicopters across police, search and rescue, as well as air ambulances to create a financially, and operationally, more efficient and effective national air service.

Although helicopters are a key component of the UK's emergency services, with a large fleet established in more than sixty bases, the RUSI paper argues the current structure is fragmented with little coordination, leading to overlapping of roles. The paper recommends that a cross-government review should be completed as the first, and critical, step to developing a future National Air Service, managed at central government-level.

'Harmonisation of blue light air assets needs to take place across UK publicly-funded organisations as well as within them. This includes the Home Office (for police air assets), the Ministry of Defence (for Royal Navy and RAF SAR assets), the Department of Communities and Local Government (for fire and rescue service assets, including those provided to the Maritime Incident Response Group), the Department for Transport (for Maritime and Coastguard Agency assets including SAR and MIRG) and the Department of Health,' writes report author Jennifer Cole.

'Actioning this, however, will require a strategic vision that is currently lacking due to the fragmentation of the emergency services sector and the lack of a single responsible owner at central government-level.

'In the short term, it may therefore be more appropriate to look at driving change through existing initiatives such as the National Police Air Service or the SAR programme, enabling other organisations to 'fold into' this until it develops into a genuinely multi-agency, cross-government National Air Service able to provide the assets and crew required to meet all organisations' operational requirements.'

To read the report in full, please visit


1.       Any enquiries, please contact : Daniel Sherman / +44(0)20 7747 2617 / +44 (0) 7917 373 069 /

2.       To view an embargoed media copy of 'Blue light Air Assets: Cost-effective Operations for the future' please visit

3.       Report author, Jennifer Cole is Head of Emergency Management at RUSI, working within the National Security and Resilience Department. Since joining RUSI in January 2007 from a background in journalism and anthropology, Jennifer's research interests have focused on the UK's emergency preparedness and response capabilities, particularly in regard to surge capacity and multi-agency working during major emergencies.

4.       RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.


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