A PLAN to axe the search-and-rescue helicopter service at a North East air base should be reversed before it costs lives, the Government has been told.
Commons Transport Committee chairman Louise Ellman has written to the Coalition expressing concerns about the ending of the service at RAF Boulmer, Northumberland, as well as at Portland in Dorset.
The Liverpool Riverside MP said there were “understandable concerns” that about slower response times leading to more fatalities.
In her letter to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Mrs Ellman said she was “surprised and disappointed” about the planned closures and added that it was not too late to change the plans before the Government’s new search-and-rescue helicopter contract deal was signed.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has also said he is “extremely unhappy” about the decision. He said: “Although we will still be covered by the service, we will not have the special advantage of it being so local and so supported by the local community.”
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “A modern, faster fleet of helicopters operating from 10 full-time bases will provide a more reliable overall service that still meets the key search-and-rescue requirements and does not increase the overall risk of loss of life.
“Independently verified analysis shows that the two bases from which it would be operationally most sensible to remove search and rescue operations would be the daytime-only base of Portland and RAF Boulmer in Northumberland.
“Installing state-of-the-art helicopters at 10 bases around the UK will allow 85% of very high, high and medium-risk areas to be reached within half an hour, up from 70% at present, and average incident response times will drop from 23 minutes to 19.”