THE END OF AN ERA
The North East Air Support Unit (NEASU) was formed in 1995 to provide air
support for Durham Constabulary, Cleveland Police and Northumbria Police in
the North East of England. With two aircraft, originally a Bolkow BO105
based at Newcastle Airport and a BN2B-20 Islander based at Teesside Airport
the area from the Scottish Border in the north to the River Tees in the
south, from the North Sea in the east to the Pennines in the west, was
provided with a 'Rolls Royce' air support service with two complementary
aircraft, on helicopter, one fixed-wing. The Bolkow 105 was later replaced
with an AS355 Twin Squirrel and then a Eurocopter EC-135.
In 2005 the BN Islander was replaced at Teeside with a second EC-135
helicopter with a warning, at the time, that two helicopters would increase
running costs by a significant amount whilst, at the same time, reducing
overall capability. The statistics showed that both aircraft, helicopter
and aeroplane, were, when fighting crime, achieving very similar results.
Moreover, the aeroplane with its 'all weather' capability and much greater
flight endurance was more suited to long range missions and persistent
surveillance. Within two years, after the 2 year warranty for the new
helicopter had expired, it was recommend to reduce the fleet to just one
aircraft to save money, a helicopter based at Newcastle. Cleveland Police,
some 30 miles south of Newcastle, objected to this proposal and the North
East Air Support Unit was disbanded and then reformed with Durham
Constabulary and Northumbria Police in 2009. Cleveland Police formed their
own Air Operations Unit with an EC-135 helicopter.
'The BN2B-20 Islander served the communities of the North East, and further
afield, with distinction from 1995 to 2005. Although the results when
fighting crime, the 'hit rate', were comparable to the helicopter based at
Newcastle the recommendation to complete a mid-life update with new, quieter
propellers and a new electro-optical camera turret were rejected in favour
of a new EC-135 helicopter'
In 2012 there was a further significant change with the formation of the
National Police Air Service (NPAS). At that time the 43 police forces in
England and Wales were supported with 31 aircraft, mostly helicopters, at 27
bases. Under the new 'national' plan it was decided to keep 22 bases with a
central control room at Wakefield in West Yorkshire. This plan was then
changed to 15 bases with 19 operational aircraft, together with 4 reserves
to cover scheduled maintenance. Four of the aircraft, 3 operational and one
reserve, will be the Vulcanair P68R, formerly the Partenavia P68 which first
flew in 1970. Many regard this Italian aircraft with its old technology to
be too small for police air support duties in the UK, due to its limited
payload and a crew of just two, the pilot and one tactical flight officer.
The most recent base closures are at Durham Tees Valley Airport, at Warton
in Lancashire and at Wattisham in Suffolk. Time will tell if these base
closures will have a significant impact, although a map of the 15 NPAS bases
shows 'black holes' in the North East, in the North West and in East Anglia.
Scotland is no better with only one aircraft, an EC-135 helicopter based at
'The end of an era. Present and former members of the North East Air
Support Unit, now the NPAS base at Durham Tees Valley Airport, line up for a
final photograph before the base closes on the 1 April 2017.'