A LEADING Wiltshire charity will be ringing in the changes as it prepares for a new start.

Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust has chosen a Bell 429 helicopter for when the contract for the existing shared helicopter with Wiltshire Police ends in December.

It will be the first Bell 429 to operate as a UK air ambulance.

There are currently 50 flying as air ambulances worldwide.

The trust spent 18 months reviewing what type of helicopter to select and three providers were shortlisted and invited to tender for the contract.

On Tuesday the charity signed a 10-year contact with Heli Charter, Bell’s UK agent, to lease a Bell 429.

The charity said the Bell is the world’s newest and most advanced light twin-engine helicopter, equipped with the latest in flight technology.

The current Wiltshire Air Ambulance flies at night thanks to specialist police equipment. The new air ambulance will also fly at night. Hours of operation are still to be finalised as the charity is researching all incidents it flies to, but charity chief executive David Philpott said at the moment the default position is 19 hours a day, the same as the shared helicopter.

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust will provide the paramedics for the new air ambulance. Heli Charter will provide the pilots.

The cost to the trust of having its own helicopter will increase from the existing £700,000 towards the shared police helicopter to £2.5 million a year.

Charity chairman Richard Youens, of Rushall, said he was confident the money could be raised. The charity already has £2.5 million in reserves and last year raised £1.9 million.

Mr Youens said: “We have increased our fundraising staff and we will be able to raise the £2.5 million, but it’s going to be hard work. We need to keep the air ambulance in the front of people’s minds all the time.

“It’s a very popular charity. In Wiltshire there are a lot of open spaces that road ambulances can’t get to.”

Chris Lear, chairman of the charity aviation committee and a pilot himself, said the new contract will ensure the helicopter is flying 365 days a year even when it needs repairs or servicing, as Heli Charter will provide a replacement helicopter during repairs and services.

When the current shared police helicopter is serviced there is no replacement helicopter operating for several weeks and other air ambulances have to attend incidents.

Mr Lear said the charity chose the Bell 429 because it offered the best equipment and it is also fastest at 150 knots.

Bell is a US company with its HQ in Texas. The helicopter will be built at its plant in Canada.

Testing and training for the crews will take place this autumn and the new air ambulance will go live by December 1.

The base of the ambulance is unknown but may be Devizes.

The shared helicopter with Wiltshire Police lasted 23 years. A new national police air service is now to be set up.