The Wales Air Ambulance Charity has completed a series of helicopter upgrades across Wales as part of a new seven-year lease which will significantly enhance its operations.

Beween March and July, three custom-built Airbus H145 helicopters have touched down at Wales Air Ambulance airbases in Llanelli, Welshpool and Caernarfon.

Wales Air Ambulance is the third HEMS (helicopter emergency medical service) operation to use the H145 aircraft and now runs the largest H145 fleet in the UK.

The new arrivals replace the EC135 model introduced to Wales in 2009. The leased helicopters are operated on behalf of the charity by Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore.

Wales Air Ambulance’s fourth helicopter, dedicated to neonatal, paediatric and adult transfers across Wales, will remain an EC135 and operate from the charity’s base in Cardiff.

With four helicopters, Wales has the largest air ambulance service in Britain. Last year, the charity responded to more than 2500 missions throughout the country.

Equipped with advanced night-flying capability, the H145 moves the charity a step closer to its goal of providing a 24-hour air ambulance service.

The aircraft also has a larger cabin and more powerful engines, meaning there is extra room for treatments and the helicopters can fly longer without refuelling.

Operations manager Mark Winter said: “Because the H145 is a significantly more advanced machine, we can do much more for the people we help.

“The cabin is larger and has more light, so we can access patients easily in-flight and have extra room for our medical equipment.

“When we introduced the EC135 to Wales eight years ago, we were excited it had a fourth seat for an additional medic or the parent of an injured child. Now we have five seats, which gives us even more scope for specialist medical passengers.

“One of the biggest differences is the H145’s night flying capability. The cockpit is set up for night vision technology. We have a weather radar, additional lights underneath and a ‘tracker light’ on the front, which is like a giant torch and incredibly powerful. These new features will make a difference to the work we can do after dark.”

Wales Air Ambulance chief executive Angela Hughes said: “The arrival of the H145 marks a new era for Wales Air Ambulance. With continued fundraising these helicopters will support our aim to progress to a 24-hour operation, so we can help anyone in their most difficult hour – whether that’s day or night.

“It’s thanks to the kind support we receive from volunteers and fundraisers that we have secured these incredible helicopters. Step by step we’re getting closer to becoming 24/7. By joining our Lifesaving Lottery or volunteering a few hours of time, we can make this a reality for everyone in Wales.”


The H145 fleet for Wales: Key benefits

  • Two powerful turboshaft engines and larger fuel tanks. This enable crews to fly longer without refuelling.
  • The helicopter can fly at 130 knots (around 150mph).
  • It has five seats. To allow for additional passengers, such as specialist medical crew or a patient’s relative if appropriate.
  • A high speed internet connection. So crews can communicate vital information to hospitals directly from medical equipment while en route.
  • The latest weather radar technology, and traffic and terrain avoidance systems.
  • A larger cabin with improved lighting throughout.
  • Ergonomic storage. A customised storage system specifically for Wales’ flying medics, so they can access all their kit precisely when they need to.”
  • Advanced lighting systems. Night-flight technology will help the charity to extend its hours.
  • Increased oxygen capacity. Crews can carry an extra 600 litres of oxygen on a flight.
  • Customised stretcher system. The new stretcher can be wheeled out of the aircraft and directly into the hospital, and has brackets around the stretcher to fix the crews’ specialist equipment to it when moving patients.
  • Pioneering bracket systems for medical equipment. Wales’ flying medics have some of the most advanced kit in the UK, so unique designs have been used to secure this kit into the aircraft. Equipment can be charged in the helicopter, so it is ready to go as soon as the crews get a 999 call – saving time and reaching patients even faster.


Images: Dr Steffan Clements and Critical Care Practitioner (CCP) Kate Owen inside the new H145 aircraft;  the H145 takes off for a mission;  CCP Kate Owen and pilot Capt James Benson with the H145.