EAST Anglian Air Ambulance will be the first in England to fly at night.
The charity took delivery on Monday of the first of two new helicopters capable of night operations and its crews are now training with the aim of starting the service in December.
The new Eurocopter EC135T2 is a later version of the EC135s they already use, operated by Bond Air Services, who also run night flying services for a Scottish air ambulance. It will be joined next year by a larger EC145T2.
The helicopters’ night equipment includes high powered lights and night vision goggles (NVG) for crew.
It also has digital mapping with power line data used by the military.
Andrew Egerton-Smith, chairman of EAAA’s trustees, said German research showed night flying increased the number of patients helped by about 30 per cent.
He said. “By being able to fly at night it follows that we can use it for more hours, which means better value for money.”
He added: “If you’ve gone out in winter and dusk is approaching, the pilot is always looking over his shoulder wondering whether he’s going to get home.”
Paramedic Gary Steward explained: “The casualty gets the treatment they need and if you have enough daylight and they need to go by aircraft, they do. But if you run out of daylight they have to go by ambulance.”
But West Suffolk Hospital’s helipad is among those needing improvement. Pete Cummings, Bond’s operations director, said the Civil Aviation Authority view was that when landing to pick up a casualty they only visited that site once, but because they land regularly at hospitals the risk there increased so the helipad must be lit.
A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: “We will be talking to colleagues from the air ambulance and the council, which owns the land on which the helipad is situated, to find out more about what would be required to meet the standards set by the Civil Aviation Authority.”