US rescue helicopter company sets up shop in NZ

Newshub can reveal a rescue helicopter company based in the United States wants to operate similar services here in New Zealand.

It comes at a time when several of our provincial rescue helicopter services are under threat from a Ministry of Health restructuring of where they're based.

CHC Helicopters is a major international company, servicing customers in oil, gas and emergency medicine. Now it's setting up shop in New Zealand.

The National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) says it's "upgrading services" but will have to cut a number of bases.

It's requiring helicopter providers to reapply for their licences. It will be some months before it's revealed who will win the rights to keep operating, but CHC Helicopters is already advertising online for pilots, engineers and technical crew members.

It set up shop here just a month ago, with a registered address in the Cayman Islands - of which Health Minister David Clark was unaware.

Currently, rescue helicopters tend to be run by trusts, but the Ministry of Health says it hasn't stopped businesses from applying for licenses.

"I don't want to pre-empt the findings of the tender process, what I want to see is the best possible patient outcomes," says Mr Clark.

For rescue services under threat, like the one in the Coromandel, the revelations feel unfair to them and the communities they serve.

"To expect the wider community to carry on fundraising to inject capital into a privateer or a business is just unbelievable," says trustee Brian Bowering.

He says rescue helicopter trusts are doing everything to remain open.

"We are now delivering a service out of the Whitianga base, which is exactly what NASO decided they wanted, and yet they're going to take this away and give us something better, which we just know can't happen."

CHC Helicopters declined multiple request for an interview, saying it won't comment until the tender process is over.

The Ministry of Health says the process is about making sure emergency services are working better together and to a higher standard.