THE air ambulance service has opened a new base at the region’s busiest airport.

The Great North Air Ambulance Service today (Thursday, May 15) unveiled its new refuelling base at Newcastle International Airport.

The service will still fly from its main operational headquarters at Durham Tees Valley Airport, near Darlington, and its Cumbria airbase at Langwathby.

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Kevin Hodgson, director of operations at GNAAS, said the Newcastle base would allow the charity to better serve the North-East as a whole.

“This is great news for the charity and great news for the region,” he added. “It means we can now refuel and be ready for action quicker than ever before.

“We remain committed to Durham Tees Valley Airport, which has been a great supporter of the charity, but this arrangement just gives us greater flexibility, and that can only be of benefit to the patient.”

GNAAS aircraft are frequent visitors to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Hospital, which is one of only 12 hospitals listed by the NHS as adult and children’s major trauma centres in the country, along with the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Instead of flying straight back to base, the helicopters will now be able to stop-over on Tyneside for rapid refuelling and restocking, while providing the doctors, paramedics and pilots time to prepare for their next assignment. The new base features office space, toilet and kitchen facilities.

The new system proved its effectiveness during a test flight on Sunday, reaching a patient who had broken both legs in a fall near Holy Island in seven minutes rather than the 20 minutes it would have taken to reach her from Teesside.