Emergency services helicopters are likely to shift from their central Auckland site after the lease for the land they are based on changed hands.

The move has caused huge concerns for those working on the front line - including whether longer travel time from a new base might cause delays in responding to critical incidents - but police bosses say a move out of the city centre would not affect the quality of service.

For many years the police Eagle helicopter and Westpac-branded Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) choppers have operated from the Mechanics Bay heliport off Tamaki Drive.

But both now face moving to new facilities after a change in leaseholders.


The heliport sits on land owned by Ports of Auckland. That land is leased to a heliport operator and then subleased to various parties, including police and ARHT.

The Westpac rescue helicopter has been based at Mechanics Bay for many years. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Westpac rescue helicopter has been based at Mechanics Bay for many years. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ports spokesman Matt Ball confirmed that until recently, the lease was held by Heliport Lease Holdings (HLHL).

"HLHL's lease came up for renewal on 30 April 2017," he said.

"Ports of Auckland entered negotiations with HLHL in 2016 ahead of the renewal date, but despite our best efforts and over a year of negotiations, we were unable to reach agreement."

Ball said Ports of Auckland had since negotiated a lease with Eagle Flight Aviation (a separate company unrelated to the police Eagle helicopter) and given notice to HLHL.

Ball said that before the end of the lease both police and ARHT signalled they wanted to move.

ARHT has negotiated a six-month sublease with the new heliport operator and police are still in discussions about continuing their services from Mechanics Bay.

Auckland City Police operations and support manager Inspector Peter Gibson said no decision had been made on when and where Eagle would move to.


"Ideally the Eagle helicopter needs to be based within 20km of the Auckland CBD," he said.

"It is the strong preference of the police to remain at Mechanics Bay as this central location allows the best pivot point in providing police air support across Tamaki Makaurau."

Gibson said although negotiations were ongoing, a "business continuity exercise" was under way on other locations where Eagle could be deployed from if an agreement with the new leaseholder can't be settled.

He said police were "dedicated to maintaining the highest possible service" that the Eagle and its crew currently provided.

"Regardless of the outcome of our negotiations or possible change of location in the future, we are confident that there won't be an impact on the current level of service that we are committed to providing for our community."

ARHT chairman Murray Bolton told the Herald he had "no idea" what would happen to his service.

While he wanted to stay at Mechanics Bay, it was not feasible.

ARHT had recently purchased two new choppers which were too big for the current hangar.

Bolton said upgrading the existing site to accommodate the choppers had been ruled out,
so the only option was to move.

"At the moment, we've got nowhere to go," he said.

"We're in a position where we've got to find a new home within a year."

He said if an appropriate site could not be found, ARHT would have to build one.

In either situation a future site would need the relevant resource consents that allow helicopters to take off and land, among other things.

It also needed accommodation to house crew and paramedics who spent their entire shift on site.

"We have no idea where we're going or what we're going to do," he said.

"We're just going to have to find a solution - not operating is not a solution."

The police Eagle helicopter leaves Mechanics Bay. Photo / Greg Bowker
The police Eagle helicopter leaves Mechanics Bay. Photo / Greg Bowker

A source close to the emergency services choppers said Ardmore Airport had been floated as a possible new base.

The airport is 32km south of the city.

The source said that from the present location flying times to high-demand areas around Auckland was about 12 minutes.

From Ardmore, flying time to the same areas could jump by at least 20 minutes.

"This is going to cause a significant impact on service delivery for these emergency services," the source said.

"There could be a significant delay in response time to critical incidents - it could result in a number of people - victims - who are not going to have access to the Westpac or police choppers.

"That's a massive concern … down at Mechanics Bay there is a massive group of people committed to providing a service to the public and we're passionate about getting out there and preventing harm to the community.

"This is just a massive slap in the face … we're all heartbroken."

Bolton suggested the council step in and create a "rescue precinct" in the city where Eagle and ARHT choppers could be based permanently.

He said such a precinct should have been "carved off" on city land a long time ago and it was "a joke" that emergency responders were struggling to find suitable bases.

Mayor Phil Goff said the council supported the emergency services choppers. In particular it has supported ARHT.

But he did not make operational decisions around the ports.

"The Westpac Rescue Helicopter is a vital service and council gives major support to it, including funding through the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board and a significant contribution from our previous 10-year Budget to fund the purchase of new helicopters.

"The priority for me will always be the safety of our communities and we will continue to support the team at Westpac Rescue Helicopter to ensure it can provide its vital service to Auckland and surrounding regions."

In the 2016/17 financial year Eagle attended more than 3500 incidents. In almost 1600 of those incidents the targeted person was found.

This included offenders who had committed offences including burglaries, vehicle theft, aggravated robberies or been involved in pursuits.

In the same year the ARHT helicopters carried out 1065 missions, including 369 accidents and 619 medical emergencies.