A NEW addition to an air ambulance's fleet is preparing to touch down in the new year and enhance its rescue services.

The Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) has purchased a £5m Airbus Helicopters AS365 Dauphin N3+ which will join the team in the Spring next year.

The charity, based at Urlay Nook, Eaglescliffe currently owns three Dauphin N2 aircraft which are each nearly 30 years old and hopes this new generation of aircraft will meet the demands of GNAS’s 8,000 square-mile range.

Two of the charity’s current fleet have now been made available for sale and proceeds from which will help pay off the new aircraft and also potentially secure a second upgraded helicopter.

GNAAS chief executive, Grahame Pickering, said: “Instead of waiting for the day when the helicopters are no longer fit for purpose, we are moving ahead to safeguard the future of the charity.

“The current fleet have been exceptional servants and owe us nothing, but it’s time to look to the future. We are excited about the enhancements the new aircraft will bring.”

The new aircraft is currently undergoing an extensive refit which will transform it from executive transport to a ‘flying emergency department’ that can carry more fuel, meaning the team will be able to respond to multiple call-outs without having to stop to refuel, saving vital minutes in an emergency.

It is also equipped with the latest form of digital autopilot and will be fitted in a way that allows for 360 degree patient access in the rear cabin.

Jay Steward, chief pilot at GNAAS, said: “This is an area of contrasts, and we need an aircraft that can handle the demands of flying from coast to coast, to the tops of fells and to city centres. Our current aircraft have done an incredible job, but the new model will take us to the next level.”

Mr Pickering added: “We don’t just have £5m kicking around sadly, so we need the public to continue their support in any way they can.

"We’ll be paying for this aircraft for the next ten years, but in that time we expect it to rescue thousands of patients, so we think every penny will be worth it.”

Last year, GNAAS responded to 1640 call-outs throughout the North-East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire.