Pilot Transports Critical Ventilator

The UK Civil Air Patrol is a charity best known for its fleet of light aircraft which may be called upon for a multitude of roles including air observation, air search and air to ground photography. Now, a new role, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the ‘pony express’ rapid courier service to deliver urgent medical supplies for the NHS with the minimum of delay, using aircraft with a high cruising speed and a good radius of action.

One such aircraft in the fleet of the charity is the Van’s RV-7 which cruises at 140 knots, (160 mph) and has an un-refuelled radius of action of 300 miles, a return journey of 600 miles, with reserve fuel to deal with any contingencies. Moreover, with a crew of one, the flight is fully compliant with the Government’s instructions on ‘social distancing’ and the charity has updated its operations manual to be fully compliant with the government rules and regulations with regard to COVID-19.

On Sunday, 5 April, at the height of the Coronavirus lock-down, UK Civil Air Patrol pilot, Paul Stone, a former member of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, responded to a request from his Local Resilience Forum in Lancashire to transport a critical piece of health equipment, a printed circuit board for a medical ventilator, from Oxford to Kingston upon Hull. The request for assistance required immediate action because the ventilator was required the next morning in Birmingham. After the charity accepted the request for assistance, assessed and selected the right pilot and aircraft to deliver the mission successfully, Paul flew his Van’s RV-7 from his base at Blackpool to Oxford to collect the urgently required electrical component and then flew the component onto the grass landing strip at Beverley airfield, home of the Hull Aero Club, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Humberside Airport was unfortunately closed. From the point where the charity received the request to delivering the component took just 3 hours and 30 minutes. After returning to Blackpool, Paul made the comment, “This was an incredible piece of teamwork. Today would not have been possible without the exceptional support of colleagues at Blackpool, the enroute air traffic control services at Manchester, Birmingham, Doncaster and Oxford and Colin Hazel at Leven airfield who opened his airfield at such short notice.”

With a minimum number of people required to operate a light aircraft, often just one person, the UK Civil Air Patrol fleet of aircraft is a cost effective and efficient way of supporting the COVID-19 national emergency, complementing the role of military and other specialist aircraft that are in high demand during these unprecedented times. Paul added, “I think this provides the Government with another solution on how to transport smaller loads around the country at pace.”
1. “Police Scotland no longer needs an MoU with the UKCAP as the combined force helicopter is now available to all legacy force areas at no cost”.

Prior to the formation of Police Scotland, the Strathclyde Police helicopter spent most of its time in the Strathclyde police area and was only loaned to other forces at their request and expense. PS identified that the single combined force helicopter was now available to all legacy force areas without the significant financial costs cross-charged previously. PS believed that it was these costs that had been the main barrier to helicopter use by legacy forces outside Strathclyde.

A single police helicopter with an endurance of 90 minutes and cruise speed of circa 130kts could never provide true national cover for all roles, even if the financial barrier to wider use was removed. This is primarily because transit times and the need for multiple re-fuelling and crew stops add unrealistic delay and logistical complexity. For example, a one hour search in the Inverness area would require a 45 min transit from Glasgow, 1 hour search flight, 45 min return flight and at least 2 refuelling stops before the helicopter regained operational status for other roles. This would require circa 4 hours in total during which the aircraft would otherwise be unavailable. This, in order to undertake a 1 hour search at a total estimated cost in excess of £12,000.

There is no cross-over between PS and CAP aircraft roles. The highly specialised PS helicopter and crew is best used for tasks not coverable by the CAP whilst the CAP is best suited to roles for which the PS helicopter could not reasonably be employed on cost considerations alone. There is a completely separate role group for each air asset. The UKCAP poses no competition whatsoever to PS air support and CAP activity is in any case and by the very nature of its volunteer basis, restricted to very occasional use.
2. “The law forbids Police Scotland from working with the UKCAP”.

In 2015 the UKCAP undertook consultations with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and with cross-party political support appealed for a change in the law. A change was promulgated in the 2016 Air Navigation Order (ANO) – which regulates all civil flying operations in the UK – and this change now allows the CAP to operate in conjunction with police forces based on a ‘permission’ given by the CAA. Gaining a CAA ‘permission’ is perfectly feasible but involves PS cooperation, currently refused.