CareFlight Group Queensland and the Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service (SCHRS), both based in Queensland, Australia, have announced their decision to merge.
Newly appointed group chairman Rob Borbidge said the decision was powered by a mutual desire to improve patient outcomes and maximise the delivery of lifesaving services to Southern and Central Queenslanders. He commented: “I am pleased to confirm the merger became official with the new financial year and to announce the two not-for-profit companies will move forward hand-in-hand under the banner of CareFlight Group Queensland.”
Borbidge added that the new board of directors has been created with equal representation from the two original companies. At the inaugural board meeting, Ashley van de Velde was chosen to lead the new entity as chief executive officer, with David Donaldson taking up a newly created position as executive director flight operations (community), overseeing four community helicopter bases.
In a statement, CareFlight Group Queensland said that consolidation of the State’s community helicopter providers has long been discussed within the industry, but it wasn’t until January this year that the two not-for-profit services formally investigated the benefits of aligning their organisations. Van de Velde stated: “Obviously there were a lot of issues to work through, but providing a sustainable future for community run helicopters and focusing on job security for all our staff were guiding principles in making this landmark decision. As charities, we’ve had to rely on renewed contracts and the ability to fundraise millions of dollars to continue our lifesaving work. This has long been an issue for both operations. But we believe our rescue services are made stronger and more resilient through this union, and crucially, that means a renewed ability to focus on providing the highest emergency medical and rescue air-retrieval operation, not just in Queensland, but Australia-wide.”
The two companies bring a combined 66 years of experience in helicopter search and rescue operations to the parent group, said the Group. SCHRS saved its first patient in 1979, while CareFlight (then known as the Gold Coast Helicopter Rescue Service) launched its operation in December 1981. Outgoing SCHRS chairman Don Moffatt reflected: “Thirty-two years ago SCHRS actually underwrote the first Gold Coast rescue helicopter which flew under the Sunshine Coast’s air operators certificate in its first year, so it seems natural that we come together again now to become the largest community based rescue helicopter service in the country.”
The Group stated that areas served by RACQ CareFlight and the former AGL Action Rescue Helicopter Service, there will be no reduction in operations. Rescue helicopters will remain based out of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Toowoomba and Bundaberg.
Donaldson explained that the combined fleet of rescue helicopters will be known as RACQ CareFlight. He added that the merger will bring practical benefits: “The communities within our primary response zone can enjoy the same level of protection, but with significant improvements. For example, just like any motor vehicle, there are times when these multi-million dollar machines need to be brought in for maintenance. With the broader expertise of our engineers working together, it means each helicopter will be back in service sooner. It will also allow us to cover any downtime with a broader fleet of back-up aircraft, ensuring we remain in the air and saving lives.”