United we soar
In an Australian first, Queensland’s two leading Community Helicopter Providers (CHP), CareFlight Group Queensland and the Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service (SCHRS), have announced their landmark decision to merge into a single, consolidated entity.
The newly appointed Group Chairman the Honourable Rob Borbidge A.O. 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.
“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,” Mr Borbidge said.
“It’s important to know we enter this union as equals. Our members, and perhaps more significantly the new Board of Directors, has been created with equal representation from the two original companies.
“At our inaugural board meeting less than 24 hours ago, it was determined Ashley van de Velde would lead this new entity as Chief Executive Officer, with David Donaldson to take-up the newly appointed position of Executive Director Flight Operations – Community, overseeing four community helicopter bases,” the newly elected Chairman said.
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.
“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,” said new CEO Ashley van de Velde.
“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.
SCHRS is the State’s longest running community rescue helicopter and saved its first patient in 1979.
While CareFlight (then Gold Coast Helicopter Rescue Service) launched its operation in December 1981.
“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,” said outgoing SCHRS Chairman Don Moffatt.
“So it seems natural that we come together again now to become the largest community based rescue helicopter service in the country,” he said.
Importantly, for the more than three million residents and their visitors within the 20 council regions serviced 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.
“Moving forward our combined fleet of rescue helicopters will be known as RACQ CareFlight, thanks to the merger and of course yesterday’s exciting announcement that RACQ had come on board as naming rights sponsor for SCHRS,” said the new Executive Director Flight Operations – Community David Donaldson.
“And that all means the communities within our primary response zone can enjoy the same level of protection, but with significant improvements,” he said.
“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.”
The long-term sustainability of the merged entity also means job security for staff and the opportunity to advance within a much larger organisation.
“No jobs will be lost in the merger process and the coming together of both companies provides opportunities for career expansion,” CEO CareFlight Group Queensland Ashley van de Velde.
“Today marks only the second day since this merger officially took effect,” said Chairman Rob Borbidge.
“And there are still many decisions to be made over the coming months and even years.
“But from the outset both organisations were determined to be guided by a mutual desire for constant innovation in the delivery of patient treatment and outcomes.
“And that will certainly remain as we carve out our future together,” he said.