FUTURE: Technology will evolve with Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service.
FUTURE: Technology will evolve with Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service. Contributed

Lifesaving chopper's future in the air as donations plummet

FROM precarious mountain-side rescues to daring offshore evacuations, Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service crews aren't expecting to be out of work anytime soon.

CEO Richard Jones said technology has and would continue to evolve and helicopters would upgrade over the next few decades, but he thought the human service delivery model would always be needed - the pilots, air crewmen, doctors, nurses and paramedics providing care.

"I think you'll still need the human element. If I'm sick in a paddock somewhere I'm not sure I want a drone to come and see me, I want someone I can talk to,” Mr Jones said.

"I think that human element side of things, particularly from a health and safety perspective is critical.”

Mr Jones has been with the service for 24 years and seen a lot of changes in his time.

He said the nature of the helicopters years ago was "quite rudimentary”.

"The new contract which started two years ago called for significant improvements in standards and size of the helicopter, particularly the quality and technology on-board.

"These new machines are airline class. In the old days they used to be pretty much 70 per cent what they call engines and airframes and 30 per cent technology. But you can flip that on its head now.

"It's all about technology these days...with the aircraft, aviation systems and GPS.

"It's all about the platform (helicopter). They're much bigger now and they can carry more fuel which means they can get further on one tank ... times to patient and times to hospital is greatly reduced.”

While he said it's hard to know exactly how technology would shape the service in the future, the service's biggest future challenge would be maintaining financial support.

It's current model is made up of government, sponsor and community support.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service's current contract with NSW health lasts for another 8 years.

"Within that time frame what we need to do is make sure our business is strong enough and robust enough,” Mr Jones said.

"Transport services in the bush are going to be more important as people move from cities and populations are getting older.

He said "technology will take care of itself” but diversity in the fundraising sector was perhaps the biggest challenge.

"Drought has been such a big thing...and who can begrudge farmers? We've seen in our Lismore and Tamworth businesses people are being challenged and people have only so many dollars to spread around.

"Our general donation platform has dropped considerably - 25 to 30 per cent. There's a lot more charitable organisations around that all deserve their share.

"People will always support something that is close to them and their family.

"We have a healthy government input into the work we do because of the sheer size and magnitude and cost of the equipment we now fly.

"Fundraising is probably our major hurdle and just being around and being there when the phone rings every day, and our crews are really good at that.

"Human nature is us as Australians like to do crazy stuff at times and people in the bush travel on pretty crappy roads from time to time so accidents are part in parcel of our lives.

"We're owned by our communities and their continued support makes us able to do what we do.”



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