COMMUNITIES around Birmingham Airport are expected to see increased movements of military helicopters in coming days due to coronavirus.
Ward councillors have been told the RAF is stepping up training flights for its fleet of Puma helicopters, on flight paths to Birmingham Airport.
The manoeuvres will help the pilots be ready to transfer patients to local hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement issued to Solihull Council, airport chiefs said: “Those of you living in communities close to the airport will have noticed the unprecedented reduction in aircraft activity resulting from the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is expected to last for some time yet. However, I we have received two requests as a result of the current situation:
“As part of a contingency programme to enable patients to be rapidly transferred to hospitals within the region, the military will have a force of Puma helicopters available for such duties.
“In poor weather conditions, helicopter pilots will need to undertake what is known as a ‘cloud break’ procedure, where the aircraft needs to safely descend until the pilot has visual contact with the ground.
“For helicopters en-route to local hospitals, that procedure will involve using the standard approach procedures for Birmingham Airport – effectively following the instrument landing system approaches until visual contact is made with the ground, at which point they will fly directly to their destination hospital.
“The military has requested that training flights be undertaken within the next few days so that pilots can practice these procedures.
“Additionally, with airlines having grounded their majority of their fleets, opportunities for pilots to undertake the required number of flying hours needed to maintain their licences are severely reduced.
“Some of our airline partners have therefore requested that a number (as yet unknown) of training flights be permitted to facilitate this. We expect the numbers of both types of operations to be very small in comparison to normal operations, but given that normal flying operations have virtually ceased, they may well be more noticeable to residents than would ordinarily be the case.
“Thank you for your co-operation in these extraordinary times.”
Separately, the defence secretary Ben Wallace announced the Ministry of Defence is set to ‘double’ the military’s civil contingency force.
Reservists could be called up, and all military leave has been cancelled.
Mr Wallace told MPs yesterday (March 18) he will add another 10,000 personnel to tackle coronavirus emergencies: “The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including Covid-19. The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need.
“The entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic.”