Rethink of rescue helicopter service

Ross Black
Ross Black
There is  uncertainty  over the future  of the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust and HeliOtago’s role as medical emergency provider in Otago and Southland as  a  "major rethink" of the country’s air ambulance contracts takes place.

At an Otago Regional Council meeting yesterday, trust chairman Ross Black said upcoming changes in how the contracts worked meant its role was "uncertain".

"We don’t know yet.  We are yet to see how they will define the service."

At present, HeliOtago is contracted through the trust, which receives funding from the Ministry of Health, ACC, the Southern DHB, the regional council and  fundraising. 

The ministry and ACC were moving towards a model  whereby operators were contracted directly, without the use of trusts, he said.

The ministry would request proposals soon, but it was not known yet whether new contracts would be national or regional.

"It creates uncertainty for HeliOtago as they work through this process," Mr Black said.

The trust  wanted to have a role in the future as a fundraiser for emergency services in the region, but was not sure  what form this would take, he said.

"We have to  ...  allow the Crown to run through this process."

The ministry wanted a greater role in air ambulance services, with which he agreed.

"We started by raising $3.5million. We chose to have a trust with no employees.  For many years we ran off the smell of an oily rag, but now we’re a $7million operation."

Mr Black also announced he would retire as trust chairman when the current contract expired late next year. He has been  chairman since the trust’s  creation in 1998.

HeliOtago owner Graeme Gale said it could  lose the bid to rival agents:  there were four Australian operators interested in bidding for future contracts.The Otago model was "talked about around the world",  which put  it  in a strong position, he said.

Cr Andrew Noone said he was sure the council could officially endorse its bid if that was required.

Ministry of Health integrated service design, community and ambulance manager, Andy Inder said the National Ambulance Sector Office was leading a "major rethink" of air ambulance services on behalf of the ministry, ACC and DHBs.

"As there have been no decisions yet on a future model, and a business case is yet to go to government, no tendering of contracts has occurred."

He could not say whether  contracts would be national or regional.

It aimed to have new contracts settled by November 2018 after current  ones  expired, he said.

The ministry’s website said the change was being made as the current model was not sustainable.


If they all bid and have the same modern helicopters and gear plus pilots to fly the helicopter if the contract comes up for tender it will go to the lowest... What you have to be wary of is. the skill of the pilots . Many can fly tourists around. but are lost in the bush or mountains snow etc. 5000 plus min hours



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