1. 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.
2. 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.
3. What is the National Police Air Service (NPAS)?
A nationally managed, regionally organised service to deliver vital air support to forces locally. It operates under a National Collaboration Agreement covering all the police areas in England and Wales.
The focus of NPAS is to deliver a more cost effective service, balancing the need to save money in a challenging economic environment against the need to ensure the police service has a quickly deployable asset that can be used to tackle crime and protect the public.
NPAS ensures that essential air support continues to be delivered where it is required; ensuring that confidence in the service remains high. It also makes use of a number of aircraft within each region meaning that the police service’s response will, in many cases, be enhanced over current provision. NPAS is a truly national (England and Wales) policing service that is at the heart of improving public safety. It brings improvements in operational efficiencies and allows for the introduction of innovative contracts that offer better value for money for the service and the tax payer.
4. Why was NPAS implemented?
In 2009 a comprehensive review commissioned by Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe identified serious inefficiencies with these arrangements – both in terms of cost and capability. ACPO and the Policing Portfolio Group approved its central recommendation to replace the current system with a ‘national service, regionally co-ordinated for local delivery’.
Based on the recommendations, a joint ACPO/National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) NPAS project team, headed by Hampshire Chief Constable Alex Marshall QPM as the ACPO lead on air operations was established. A proposal for NPAS was agreed by all 43 Chief Officers at Chief Constables’ Council in 2010. The proposal for NPAS was considered by all Police Authorities in June 2011.
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.
5. When was NPAS implemented?
NPAS was implemented in a phased approach from October 2012- January 2015.
6. What are the benefits of a national service?
- NPAS provides a national, borderless service making use of the nearest aircraft meaning that the police service's response will, in many cases, be enhanced over current provision.
- NPAS provides an air service to 98% of the population of England and Wales within 20 minutes.
- NPAS aircraft are placed at 17 strategic locations that provide the operational capability to deliver an enhanced service to the public with an aircraft being available 24 hours a day. Reserve aircraft will also be provided when aircraft are offline for maintenance to minimise reduction in service.
- 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. It is anticipated that NPAS saves up to £15 million a year compared to the cost of previous arrangements for police air support when all forces join NPAS.
- Longer term, further savings are expected to be achievable through improved operational and organisational efficiencies as well as moving to an optimised fleet (reducing maintenance and training costs).
7. How is NPAS funded?
NPAS is funded through contributions from forces. The initial funding model for NPAS means that every force will pay less for air support than they currently do during the current Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) period. The funding model also makes provision for a small team of staff that meets the Civil Aviation Authority regulations and will ensure the service is able to respond to demand.
In January 2012, the Policing Minister announced that part of the police capital grant for the years to 2014/15 would be top sliced from police authorities and allocated to meet the capital costs of NPAS (these include the purchase of aircraft and base redevelopment or relocation).
8. What are the efficiency savings associated NPAS?
NPAS saves approximately up to £15 million a year compared to the cost of previous arrangements for police air support once all forces have joined NPAS. Longer term, further savings are expected to be achievable through improved operational and organisational efficiencies as well as moving to an optimised fleet (reducing maintenance and training costs).
Significant savings have already been made as a number of forces have moved to operating in line with NPAS principles, for example the North West and Central regions operate borderless tasking and the former Merseyside and Cambridgeshire aircraft have already been withdrawn (the former Cambridgeshire aircraft is now being used as an NPAS reserve aircraft).
Once all forces join NPAS this will provide the opportunity to realise the rest of the savings available.
9. How do you know that it will work?
A three month pilot, titled Operation Borderless, ran from April to June 2010 involving Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent and Cambridgeshire Police forces. The operation was a borderless project which allowed the four aircraft to be controlled from a central point. Operation Borderless proved that tasking across force boundaries works and improves the efficiency of air support.
More recently, since July 2011, West Midlands, East Midlands, North Midlands and Central Counties Air Support Units merged to become the Central Region in line with the proposal for NPAS. The Central Region operates across force boundaries by providing air support from the nearest aircraft. This also increases aircraft availability during service downtime and ensure that major incidents continue to receive 24 hour air support.
The forces in the North West region have also moved to a centralised dispatch and borderless tasking operation, known as the North West Air Operations Group (NWAOG). North Wales, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire are now covered by four aircraft operating across force boundaries within the region. The start times at the bases around the region have been staggered to ensure 24 hour coverage. The new shift pattern also ensures that air cover is maximised during peak time. Through borderless tasking, participating forces have seen a 10% reduction in flying hours due to intelligent tasking and dispatch.
10. Where are the new bases going to be located?
Under NPAS it is proposed that there will be 17 air support bases at strategic locations that provide the operational capability to deliver an enhanced service. The NPAS base locations are:
Barton, Greater Manchester
Birmingham, West Midlands
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Durham Tees Valley, Teeside
Husbands Bosworth, Leicestershire
Lippitts Hill, Essex
St Athan, Glamorgan, South Wales
11. Will there be any further changes to these bases or to the number of NPAS aircraft?
Under the NPAS Collaboration Agreement for police air support, it will be for the NPAS Strategic Board to consider any proposals for further change.
12. Who will host the operation and service of NPAS?
NPAS will be delivered through a lead force model. West Yorkshire Police Authority has 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.
13. What would happen if NPAS was not rolled-out?
Failure to deliver NPAS would have a significant impact on policing and public protection. It offers the police service an extremely valuable and flexible function that can be used to great effect when searching for vulnerable missing persons, policing public order events and catching dangerous criminals without endangering the public. It may also result in the identified savings not being met – meaning that other frontline services will have to absorb additional cuts.
14. How many forces are expected to join NPAS?
In order to achieve all the identified benefits of NPAS it needs to be a truly national service. NPAS is an opportunity for the police service to lead the way in developing a national collaborative and cohesive approach to a strategic policing requirement. In support of NPAS the Secretary of State made the Police (Collaboration: Specified Function) Order 2012, under Section 23FA of the Police Act 1996, specifying air support as a critical national function to be carried out through a single national collaboration agreement for England and Wales. Therefore all Policing Bodies and Forces will be expected to join NPAS to ensure a truly national service, organised regionally and delivered locally.
15. How Does this fit in with Police and Crime Commisioner’s (PCCs)
PCCs will be parties of the NPAS Collaboration Agreement and will play a key role in the overall governance of the NPAS Strategic Board as stated within the NPAS Collaboration Agreement.