On the 3rd July the Western Counties Air Operations unit transferred across to the National Police Air Service (NPAS). This will provide air support to the 43 forces at 22 bases across the country. The main aim of this national collaboration programme is to manage air support across the country through a borderless way of working. As such the Western Counties Website will no longer be updated. We would like to thank you for using the site, should you wish to continue to follow us we are now on Twitter –

Western Counties - Air Operations Unit

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

1. What type of helicopter is used by Western Counties?

The Western Counties Air Operations Unit utilises a Eurocopter EC135 helicopter that is fully role equipped for police operations that is jointly owned by both Constabularies.

Although normally based at British Aerospace’s Airfield at Filton, Bristol the helicopter can be forward deployed in support of specific incidents and operations.

2. Why did Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Gloucestershire Constabulary decide to invest in a helicopter?

In 1995 the consortium area was experiencing a rise in crime where cars were used to commit a significant number of commercial burglaries, or as was known at the time ‘Ram Raids’. Around the country police forces were beginning to utilise helicopters in the fight against with some considerable success. It was in light of the increase in this particular type of crime and the overall policing advantage that could be achieved with a police helicopter that the consortium decided to invest.

3. Where is the helicopter based and does it have to work with other air traffic when airbourne or does it have priority over other aircraft?

The aircraft is based at Filton Airfield, Bristol. When airborne the pilot can communicate with air traffic control to ensure that safe separation from other aircraft. The police Helicopter does have priority over other aircraft if required, but is not normally necessary.

4. From the moment when a task is assigned, how long does it take for the helicopter to be airbourne?

The aircraft can be ready for flight in about two minutes.

5. Is the helicopter used for taking people to hospital?

Yes, the helicopter can be used as an Air Ambulance. In its first 10 years of service almost 200 lives were potentially saved. Most of these people sustained life threatening injuries following serious road traffic collisions.

6. How much fuel does the helicopter use in a year?

The helicopter will use about 350,000 litres of fuel in one year. As a point of interest a Boeing 747 – 400 uses 216,360 litres on one tank full!

7. What sort of training do the helicopter observers have to go through before joining the unit?

The observers are all serving police officers who all have to pass a series of stringent tests before they are selected for training.

It takes a total of seven weeks to train an officer to become an air observer. After that they have to pass an examination every six months to ensure that they are performing at the highest levels.

8. Where do the pilots train and do they have some kind of military background?

The pilots are all ex-military and have exemplary flying records. The pilots also have to undergo regular testing to ensure that they are performing at the highest levels. Training is completed in our aircraft and in flight simulators.

9. Do you allow visitors to the air operations unit?

Visitors are not normally allowed onto the airfield, however, the aircraft and crew do make regular appearances at police open days and air-shows. If the aircraft is intending to attend a function, it is normally publicised in the local media.

10. How do I find out why the helicopter was hovering over the area I live in?

We have a section on our website where you can find out the tasks the helicopter has been assigned.

What has the aircraft been doing in your area?

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