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

What we do

The police helicopter is used for a variety of operational work from helping to apprehend offenders to conveying injured people to hospital.

Typical duties include:

Missing People

The helicopter is regularly involved when there is a report of a missing person who could be vulnerable or un-streetwise. It is able to cover a large area helping to assists units on the ground. The thermal image camera is a valuable tool that can be used to locate heat sources.

Operational follows

Whenever a car fails to stop for police, the helicopter is requested to manage the pursuit to reduce the risk to members of the public. The aircraft’s observer will give a full commentary so experienced officers from the Road Policing Unit can intercept the vehicle and bring the pursuit to a safe conclusion. Often the footage taken from the helicopter forms part of the evidence used to bring offenders to justice.

Tracking suspects

Whether it is searching for a robbery suspect, a burglar or a car thief, the helicopter can help find the offender and liaise with officers on the ground to pinpoint locations. This can be extremely useful in areas where there could be dense undergrowth. Often if a heat source is identified, a dog handler will take instruction from the helicopter to investigate.

Public order

Using the aircraft’s downlink instant pictures can be taken from the air at events attended by many people and viewed by the event commander. The helicopter has been used at Cheltenham racecourse, football grounds in Gloucester, Yeovil and Bristol and popular events including the Glastonbury Festival to monitor crowds and identify potential troublemakers.

Photographic tasks

All of the aircraft’s observers can take pictures of scenes of fatal road traffic collisions, murders and serious assaults which could provide the investigation team with important evidence.

High profile patrols

This is a reasonable new concept that has proved worthwhile in reducing street robberies and anti-social behaviour in the Gloucestershire and Avon and Somerset force areas. The aircraft often patrols an area over a given time putting the fear back into criminals and making them aware that their actions are being monitored.


This is the term used for when the helicopter is used to transfer people to hospital by air. The use of the police helicopter as an “air ambulance” has saved many lives.

There are many other tasks which the helicopter is involved in ranging from transporting specialist officers such as dog handlers to an emergency to following a vehicle which is equipped with a tracker.

Why not find out what the helicopter has been up to in your area?

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