UK’s National Police Air Service issues tender for 10 aircraft

Avatar for Glenn SandsBy Glenn Sands | September 8, 2022

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 51 seconds.

The U.K.’s National Police Air Service (NPAS) has issued a tender for seven aircraft, as well as a further three for the Metropolitan Police.

Paul Watts, head of flight operations at NPAS, announced the news during a presentation at Helitech Expo at the ExCeL London Sept. 7, telling attendees that he anticipated a contract award sometime in fall 2023.

A UK NPAS EC135P2+, the fleet is due for replacement by around 2024-25, with a new tenure announced last week. NPAS Photo

“Production timescales may well set the pace, but I hope it will be around 18 months to two years after the start of the contract we will see the first aircraft into service,” he said. |In my view it will likely be a brand new off-the-production line aircraft the NPAS will receive. It’s unlikely we’ll get second-hand types for this tender. ” 

In 2020, the National Police Chief’s Council established a 10-year plan for air support and identified an urgent need for new aircraft to replace what was an inherited fleet of aging models.

For the last 15 years, the NPAS has relied on the EC135 and EC145 models to perform all of its helicopter taskings, but the service is evolving and the need to combine rotary and drones is now a driving force for the NPAS.

The new rotary-wing fleet will be expected to operate in conjunction with new BVLOS drones, following U.K. Home Office funding to develop this capability. How the latter will operate in support of the NPAS is still being worked out. 

One of the presentations at Helitech Expo 2022 was from Paul Watts, Head of Flight Operations National Police Air Service. Glenn Sands Photo.

“The bulk of what we do is search operations, for which the helicopter is the ideal platform for both large and small areas. Missing people, looking for potential suspects or vehicles, both static and on the move, is the bulk of our work,” said Watts. “One thing we do very little of is surveillance; it’s not our primary mission, and this is where drones can play their part. It’s about achieving a blended support model moving forward.”  

Watts doesn’t see the style of helicopter missions changing much in the future, it’s a case of how they will integrate alongside the new drone capabilities emerging, either by taking the lead in an operation or providing support via information that has been relayed from a larger drone system.

Watts said the new aircraft will be of a similar category to the existing fleet, but with the latest generation of sensors, cameras and up-to-date mission systems. “I expect the new models will not look too different from what we operate now, although they will be far more capable.”

With the new NPAS tender being just days old, Watts was unable to specify what types may replace the current fleet, but explained that the tender was quite specific and detailed in terms of what the service is seeking .

“We [NPAS] expect to see a full range of aircraft, and expect to see bids from the leading OEMs. Of course, it will be a CS-27 aircraft, but as to what [type] remains to be seen. It’s a platform-focused tender, so may well be a new type.”

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