Frequently Asked Questions - Great Western Air Ambulance Charity

Questions about our service

What areas do you cover?

We provide the air ambulance and critical care response for Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire and parts of Wiltshire. We are also sometimes called to neighbouring areas, such as Somerset and Wales, to assist our air ambulance colleagues there.

Where are you based?

Great Western Air Ambulance Charity operate from an airbase at Almondsbury in South Gloucestershire, adjacent to the M4/M5 Almondsbury Interchange. Our charity office is based in Bristol near the Ashton Gate Stadium.

What hours do you work?

Our Critical Care Teams are available 18 hours a day from 07:00 to 01:00. We have a day team operating from 0700 to 1900 from the helicopter and a critical care car, and a late team operating from a critical care car from 13:00 to 01:00.

What type of incidents are you called to?

Our crew are called to incidents where the patient has a life-threatening emergency, whether through illness or injury. They are only called to patients where their specialist level of skills can make a difference on scene, they are not called as a rescue service for people in hard to reach areas.  

How many patients do you see a day?

We receive over five call-outs a day on average to critically ill or injured patients.

How long does a mission take?

This depends on the type of incident and the type of treatment the patient needs on scene. We aim to be anywhere in our region in 20 minutes from receiving the call, and we can be on scene for any length of time necessary. If we transport the patient to hospital, we factor in handover times and then getting back to base. Often we can attend multiple jobs in a row so can be away from the base for many hours.

How long does it take to be airborne after receiving a call-out?

We aim to be in the air or on the road within just four minutes of receiving an emergency call-out and to have arrived anywhere within our region within 20 minutes of receiving the call.  

 

Do you fly patients to hospital?

Sometimes. Where it is the fastest and most appropriate means of getting a patient to hospital, we can fly them in the helicopter. Often we will transfer a patient in the back of a land ambulance so that our crew can closely monitor them and continue specialist care on route to the hospital.

Do you do talks?

Great Western Air Ambulance Charity representatives can give talks to your group, organisation, or business on what it is we do and why. Find out more and book here.

 

Who is in the helicopter crew?

Our standard crew consists of a Pilot, a Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care (SPCC) and a Critical Care Doctor. A trainee doctor or paramedic often accompanies the crew in the fourth seat in the helicopter.

How does GWAAC’s service differ from the ambulance service?

Our Specialist Paramedics and Critical Care Doctors are highly trained in pre-hospital emergency medicine and bring the skills and equipment of a hospital direct to the patient in need. They can perform lifesaving surgical interventions, usually only done in an operating theatre, at the scene of an incident. Read more on what our crew do on scene here.

Who decides what hospital you fly to?

Our crew take the patient to the hospital best suited to their needs, which isn’t necessarily the closest one. We are lucky within our region to have many specialist hospitals, such as Southmead Hospital, which is a Major Trauma Centre, and the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which includes the Bristol Heart Institute and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. These are the most frequent hospitals we transfer patients to as they offer the specialist care that our patients need. For example, if we attend to a patient in Bath, we usually transport them to one of the above hospitals rather than taking them to the local Royal United Hospital as they will need a major trauma centre, specialist cardiology or paediatric treatment.

What kit do you carry?

Our crew carry the same specialist equipment usually found in a hospital, such as ventilators and kit for emergency procedures such as blood transfusions, anaesthetics or even emergency surgery. Most of the equipment they carry is not found on a land ambulance, as the crew need to be specially trained in critical care to use it. They also carry advanced drugs, such as advanced pain relief, which is not carried on a land ambulance. The kit we carry is all funded by charitable donations.

How do you get called to incidents?

Our team are dispatched by a dedicated Helicopter Emergency Medical Services and Critical Care team based in the 999 ambulance call centre in Exeter. They listen in to 999 calls and dispatch our crew to those who need specialist attention. Often our crew are also called upon by land ambulance crews who have arrived on scene and need their advanced skills to care for a patient.  

Find out what happens when you dial 999 and need an air ambulance here.  

Why do you need cars as well?

We operate three critical care cars that allow us to offer a more resilient service and reach more patients in need. Our late team respond from a car from 13:00pm to 01:00am and our day team will respond by car in instances where the weather prevents them flying, or the area of the incident has very restricted and limited landing sites 

What qualifications do the medical crew hold?

Our Critical Care Doctors are Consultants in regional hospitals across a range of specialities, including anaesthetics, emergency medicine, intensive care, cardiology, and paediatrics. They are required to undergo up to two years of Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine training with GWAAC in order to become Critical Care Doctors.  

Our Specialist Paramedics in Critical Care (SPCC) have all gained significant experience in the ambulance service before undergoing a rigorous selection process to join our team, where they begin their two years of training to become a qualified SPCC. Read more on the selection process and assessment day here.

What qualifications do your Pilots require?

Our Pilots must have a minimum of 2,000 hours flying experience, hold a Commercial or Air Transport Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter), an Instrument Rating, Class 1 Medical, EC135 type rating and be specifically trained and checked for Helicopter Emergency Medical Service operations. Our Pilots are all employed by Babcock Aviation Services, which is where we lease our helicopter from as well.  

 

Questions about our helicopter

How many helicopters do you have?

We operate just one helicopter from our airbase in Almondsbury, our EC135 T2+, known as Helimed 65. You can take a tour of Helimed 65 online here.  

How many people can the helicopter carry?

Our helicopter can carry a maximum of five people. This includes the Pilot, up to three medical crew members and one patient on the stretcher. Where necessary, we can also take a parent of a child instead of a crew member if we are airlifting the child to hospital 

How fast is the helicopter?

Our helicopter has a maximum airspeed of 155 knots, equivalent to approximately 186 miles per hour. However, we cruise at an airspeed of 120 knots (140 mph), covering two nautical miles per minute, flying in a straight line.  

How big is the helicopter?

Our helicopter measures 12.16 metres from the tip of the rotor blades to the end of the tail. We need an area with a diameter of 25m (double the length of the rotor blades) which is clear of obstructions in order to land at the scene of an emergency. This is roughly the same size as a tennis court.  

How heavy is the helicopter?

Our maximum take-off weight is 2,910 Kilogrammes; approximately three tonnes which is half the weight of a full grown elephant!

How far can you fly?

Our standard fuel load provides 1 hour 35 minutes of flying time and a range of 190 nautical miles. This is the equivalent of flying non-stop from our base in Almondsbury to Newcastle – which would take around 4 to 5 hours by road.

 

How much does it cost to run the helicopter?

We spend around £50,000 on fuel for the helicopter each year.

Each mission our crew attend costs approximately £2000, including helicopter running costs, our crew and all of our specialist equipment and drugs.

Can you fly at night?

We can fly at night, but when it is dark we can only land in surveyed landing sites e.g. a hospital helipad, or back at our airbase. We can only land in an unsurveyed site (usually the scene of an incident) in daylight – this is so that the Pilot and crew can safely see any dangers that might affect their landing, such as telephone wires or livestock. 

Can you fly in bad weather?

Yes. Our Pilots are highly trained and experienced to fly in a variety of weather conditions - in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) and under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

For operations over land, we need a cloud ceiling of 500 feet above ground level and 1500 metres visibility. The maximum wind speed for starting and stopping our rotors blades is 50 knots. Strong winds make for a bumpy ride in a helicopter but if it is blowing in the right direction wind can help us get to a patient more quickly.

When the weather is poor it may be possible for us to respond to patients along the Bristol Channel coast and Severn Valley using the helicopter, whilst responding to incidents on higher ground using our fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles.

Do you own your helicopter?

No, we lease our helicopter from Babcock Aviation Services. This means that when it needs maintenance, we are given a replacement helicopter and can still respond to incidents.  

Did you need to get permission from Air Traffic Control to land?

Not very often! But if we are landing close to an airport or airfield, such as Bristol Airport, we may need to obtain permission from Air Traffic Control. However, as a HEMS aircraft, we have many exemptions and are able to land in unsurveyed sites that other aircraft are not allowed to do. 

 

Fundraising and charity questions

Why don’t you receive any government funding?

All air ambulances in England are charity funded. We receive no money from the Government or NHS, but around half of our Specialist Paramedic costs are funded by South Western Ambulance ServiceOur independence from Government means that we can ensure that the money we raise is spent directly on our local communities and in creating a service that is right for them, regardless of any changes in Government policy or priorities 

I have a full collection tin what do I do?

If you have a full collection tin, please call our charity office on 0303 4444 999 to let our team know, or email info@gwaac.com with your name, address and contact details and we will let you know how you can pay the money into the bank yourself, let you know your nearest drop-off point, or schedule a volunteer to come and collect it from you. 

I have items to donate, where can I take them?

If you have unwanted items for our charity shops, you can drop them off at one of our shops in Westbury-on-Trym or Yate. More information on addresses, opening times and what you can and can’t donate here 

If you have unwanted textiles (clothing, bedding, etc.) that you can't give to our charity shop, you can find one of our charity recycling banks here.

 

I donate/play your lottery but my details have changed, who do I contact?

If your details have changed then please contact our Supporter Care Team on 0303 4444 999 or by emailing info@gwaac.com to let us know. 

Can I make a donation via cheque?

Yes! Donations via cheque are welcome and should be made out to ‘Great Western Air Ambulance Charity’ and posted to our charity office address: Great Western Air Ambulance Charity, 3rd Floor, County Gates, Ashton Road, Bristol, BS3 2JH

Do you do door to door fundraising?

We have a contract with a company called Tower Lotteries who have a team of lottery canvassers who go door-to-door asking people to play our lottery. The lottery is our biggest source of income and we are incredibly grateful to everyone who plays. You can find out more here. If you have any concerns or queries around the legitimacy of a door-to-door fundraiser who says they are from Great Western Air Ambulance Charity, please do get in touch and we can check this out for you.  

Still have more questions?

If your question hasn't been answered, or you would like to find out more and need to get in touch, you can email info@gwaac.com or call our friendly Supporter Care Team on 0303 4444 999.

Thank you!