17 April 2018

Snowy Hydro signs off as rescue chopper sponsor after 15 years

| Ian Campbell
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Snowy Hydro no more on the SouthCare chopper. Original pic from ACT Health

Snowy Hydro no more on the SouthCare chopper. Original pic from ACT Health

Snowy Hydro will no longer be the naming rights sponsor on the region’s flying emergency room.

For the last 15 years, the blue and green of the Snowy Hydro SouthCare Helicopter has been a familiar sight in the skies of South East NSW.

That ends on March 31.

In a brief statement to About Regional, Snowy Hydro’s Corporate Affairs boss, Jane McMillan said that Snowy Hydro had been informed it was not possible to remain the naming rights sponsor of the ACT based chopper from 1 April 2017.

The news is part of a bigger change underway for aeromedical services across NSW.

The Toll Rescue Helicopter Service has forged a new 10-year partnership with NSW Ambulance to provide rescue, patient retrieval and treatment services across Southern NSW.

The deal is part of reforms first flagged in 2011 by NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner.

“When I became Minister for Health it was clear that we needed a long-term strategic direction for this vital service,” Ms Skinner said.

At the heart of the Government’s change is a desire to streamline aeromedical services, reducing the number of operators in NSW from five to two, covering the top and bottom halves of NSW.

The Minister’s pitch includes:

  • Faster care with reduced retrieval times
  • Bases that operate 24 hrs a day / 7 days a week
  • New and upgraded facilities
  • Single coordination phone line
  • Every chopper able to transfer sick babies

In Southern NSW the Toll Group replaces the Canadian Helicopter Company (CHC) who have been doing the job under the Snowy Hydro SouthCare banner since before 2005.

CHC Australia told Australian Aviation magazine it was disappointed not to have won the contract through the Government’s tender process.

The change over includes a new purpose-built Agusta Westland 139 helicopter, replacing the well-known Bell 412 which is notching up 35 years in the sky, 18 years of which as the Snowy Hydro SouthCare chopper.

The new Italian helicopter will have increased power, range and performance and will be fitted with the latest aviation, safety and medical technology. The flight team of doctors, paramedics and nurses will also have a larger work space in the rear of the aircraft.

Two helicopters will be maintained as back-up allowing for greater interchangeability amongst the Southern NSW fleet, which apart from the current base outside of Canberra will operate out of Bankstown, Wollongong and Orange.

“The new highly sophisticated fleet of Agusta Westland 139 helicopters will ensure we are even better equipped to care for communities, now and into the future,” Commissioner Dominic Morgan, Cheif Executive of NSW Ambulance said.

The deal with Toll to cover Southern NSW is part of the Government’s $151.2 million statewide package of reforms.

Sponsorship similar that provided by Snowy Hydro over the last 15 years is key to making the new Toll service financially viable, especially considering that each mission currently costs around $6000.

Speculation has suggested that Toll is looking to secure one naming rights sponsor across its fleet of eight helicopters, and while it seems Snowy Hydro were at the negotiating table, funding just one chopper wasn’t an option.

In her statement to About Regional, Snowy Hydro, Corporate Affairs Manager, Jane McMillan said the electricity generator had been a proud sponsor and during its time had contributed more than $7 million to the service.

“We are heartened that the service will continue with a new fleet of choppers and wish the service all the very best,” Ms McMillan said.

Community fundraising and donations have also helped keep the rotor turning.

A passionate and tireless charity effort from the regional communities that surround the ACT has been key – worth between $1 and 2 million each year.

The fundraising arm of the service is the SouthCare Helicopter Fund, which was established in 1998 to supplement sponsorship dollars and government funds.

A spokesperson for the Fund told About Regional that the financial support provided by sponsors and donors has and will continue to contribute to missions, as well as purchasing equipment and providing training for the aeromedical crews.

The new Agusta Westland 139. Pic from Toll Air Ambulance Facebook

No sponsor announced yet for the new Agusta Westland 139. Pic from Toll Air Ambulance Facebook

The spokesperson went on to acknowledge the backing of Snowy Hydro.

“It’s been invaluable in contributing to the life-saving legacy of the rescue helicopter service.

“We have been proud to partner with such an iconic local organisation and make a real and positive difference to the communities in which we both live and work,” the spokesperson for the SouthCare Helicopter Fund said.

So what will be the colours and name of the new service when it becomes operational in South East NSW on April 1?

A spokesperson for the Toll Rescue Helicopter Service said that an announcement on the naming rights sponsor would be made shortly.

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