WILTSHIRE Air Ambulance has signed a deal for a brand new helicopter after its two-decade partnership with the police ends later this year.

The charitable trust that runs the service will now have to find £2.5 million a year to keep it flying for the next 10 years.

On Tuesday it signed a contract with Swindon firm Heli Charter Ltd for a state-of-the-art machine equipped with the latest flight technology which will be fitted out with modern medical emergency equipment.

Trust chairman, Richard Youens said: “While the termination of our long standing association with the police is much to be regretted, it’s an ill wind that blows no good and we have taken the opportunity significantly to improve the quality of the service with state of the art equipment at a very competitive cost.

“Furthermore the new aircraft will be maintained on a rolling basis whereas the previous helicopter had to be taken off line for six weeks or more every year.”

He added: “With the loss of our collaboration with the police we will need to fund the full cost of providing the air ambulance alone. However I can say with confidence that thanks to the passionate support the charity receives from so many people in Wiltshire, the necessary funds, about £2.5m annually, will be found.”

The trust had to review its options two years ago after it became clear that the arrangement with Wiltshire Police would end following the introduction of the National Police Air Service.

The new machine, a Bell 429 twin-engined helicopter with a top speed of 150 knots and a range of 400 miles, will carry paramedics provided by South West Ambulance Service. It will be able to fly up to 19 hours a day, every day and will be replaced in five years.

Built in Canada, it will be brought to the UK during the autumn for testing and training and is due to enter service officially on December 1. It will be the first 429 to be used as an air ambulance in the country.

Heli Charter chief executive Ken Wills said: "Heli Charter and the trust have worked together to fully evaluate the Bell 429, which will serve the trust well for the next ten years. It is the most advanced light medium twin helicopter available and is widely used globally as an Air Ambulance. We look forward to delivering the aircraft and being part of the team providing this essential service for the county.”