National Police Air Service (NPAS)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the National Police Air Service (NPAS)?
Information can be found on the about us page

Who hosts the operation and service of NPAS?
NPAS is delivered through a lead force model. West Yorkshire Police Authority agreed that West Yorkshire Police will host the National Police Air Service (NPAS). This ensures that NPAS is led and owned by the police service and delivers the operational benefits and financial savings that have been presented to individual police authorities.

How does this fit in with Police and Crime Commisioner’s (PCCs)
PCCs are parties of the NPAS Collaboration Agreement and play a key role in the overall governance of the NPAS Strategic Board as stated within the NPAS Collaboration Agreement.

When was NPAS implemented?
NPAS was implemented in a phased approach from October 2012- January 2015.

What are the benefits of a national service?
NPAS provides a borderless 24/7/365 service and deploys aircraft from a national network of 14 bases to reduce the risk to communities by supporting local, regional and national policing. The fleet and crew can be moved around England and Wales to the areas in greatest need.

Through collaborative working, NPAS delivers a more cost effective service balancing the need to save money against the need to ensure the police service has a quickly deployable asset that can be used to tackle crime and protect the public.

Since the implementation of NPAS financial savings have been made through establishing a single national aviation insurance policy for all aircraft, processes have been standardised and adopted nationally and financial savings have been made on a national fuel contract.

How is NPAS funded?
NPAS is funded through contributions from forces.

Why do police forces need air support?
Police air support plays a key role in tackling crime and protecting the public:
-Searching – for suspects or missing persons
-Reconnaissance ahead of planned operations
-Supporting public order operations, including through live feed of video to commanders on the ground. Assisting pursuits.

What are the benefits of air support?
• Skilled and experienced crews use specialist equipment to provide a fast time response
• Real time visual information and observer assessments allow incident commanders on the ground to make informed decisions
• Enhanced safety of the public and officers
• Improved search capabilities
• Fewer ground resources are required
• Offenders rarely escape custody when air support traces them
• Production of specialist quality evidence
• A visible and powerful deterrent ensuring communities are safe and feel safer

In these times of austerity aren’t police aircraft just an expensive luxury – wouldn’t the money be better spent putting more officers on the front line?
Aircraft provide vital support for police ground operations and is one of a number of key assets available to the police. In hunts for suspects or missing persons they can clear large areas that would otherwise tie up many officers for many hours in prolonged searches, as well as checking inaccessible or dangerous areas (eg roofs), including through use of infra red detection.

In public order situations they provide – literally – an overview enabling commanders to make the most effective deployments and respond quickly to emerging problems.

In support of NPAS, The Secretary of State has made the Police (Collaboration: Specified Function) Order 2012, order under Section 23FA of the Police Act 1996 to specify air support as a function to be carried out through a single national collaboration agreement for England and Wales.

Where are the bases located?
There are 14 air support bases at strategic locations that provide the operational capability to deliver an effective service. Access the base map to see the locations

What type of helicopters does NPAS fly?         
NPAS fleet consists of Eurocopter EC135’s and EC145's.

How fast can the helicopters fly?
This depends very much on the type of operation the helicopter is conducting. Although they can travel faster, our aircraft will usually cruise between 120-130kts (135-155mph). At this speed the aircraft easily cover over two miles every minute. They also have the added benefit of not having to slow down for corners, unlike the stolen vehicle that they may be watching!

How long can a helicopter stay in the air?
That will depend on the type of operation the helicopter is conducting and what equipment it is carrying. It also varies depending on the type of flying involved, e.g. hovering on a hot summer day will take more fuel than slow orbits.  Each helicopter has a maximum endurance of approx two hours.

How often do they have to be serviced?
As helicopters are more mechanically complex than fixed-wing aircraft then regular servicing is essential. The helicopters are checked by the pilots twice daily and receive maintenance inspections every 50 flying hours with more involving checks being carried out every 100+ hours as well. The aircraft are also inspected and serviced annually.

Why do the helicopters have a yellow and blue paint scheme?
All police helicopters are painted in the same uniform colours (with minor variations in design) so that they can be seen by other aircraft when flying. The yellow shows up against the ground to an aircraft flying above while the dark blue contrasts against the sky to an aircraft alongside or below.

Do helicopters have a registration number like a car?
Yes, every aircraft has a registration number which can be found written in large letters on both sides of the tail.  Each one will start with the letter “G” because they have been registered with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK.

Do police officers pilot the helicopters?
No. The pilots are civilian staff, all with experience of flying either military or commercial helicopters.

Are the helicopters allowed to fly over residential areas at night?
Yes they can. The crews provide a service to operational officers and the public. The decision to call out a helicopter is always taken seriously, ensuring a proportionate response both day and night.  The helicopters are a useful resource in the dark as they are all equipped with thermal imaging cameras which allow the crew to see at night. The aircraft fly higher at night to keep noise to a minimum, especially over residential areas, and will leave the scene of an incident as soon as possible.

How can I find out why the helicopter was flying over my area?
Information on tasks that our aircraft attend is published via social media (Twitter, please note some bases have a Facebook page too), which is updated on return to base after each flight (other operational tasks allowing of course!). Access the base Twitter accounts for further information

Can I fly in a police helicopter?
The carriage of passengers in NPAS aircraft is strictly regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority. Passengers are currently limited to serving Police Officers, Special Constables and members of Police Staff who have regular involvement with NPAS aircraft.


For non-emergencies dial 101
In an emergency always dial 999