Enniskillen’s St. Angelo Airport will be the second base for the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance, it has been confirmed.

Last Wednesday, former Health Minister Michelle O’Neill announced via twitter that the new Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) will go ahead at the former Maze site and it will be doctor led. It is hoped the service will be up and running within 12 weeks.

The Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) charity – which has two Fermanagh men, Rodney Connor and Peter Quinn, among its Trustees – has been working since 2013 with partners in the health and social care sector to establish an air ambulance service for Northern Ireland. The Trustees have lobbied hard for St. Angelo to be chosen as the second staging location. They are delighted that the contract has been signed with the department and that St. Angelo will also be used as the site where paramedics are trained.

The Helicopter Emergency Medical Service will be led by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, working closely with the five other Health and Social Care Trusts and supported by AANI fundraising. The Department of Health will be responsible for providing sufficient funds to ensure the medical staff and supplies for the service in the long term, while AANI will have to raise £2 million each year to fund the helicopters and pilots.

When the Northern Ireland Ambulance Services finalises which doctors will staff the helicopters, the helicopter training at St. Angelo will begin.

AANI carried out a European wide tender process and last year Babcock Mission Critical Services were chosen as the HEMS provider. Babcock will supply two EC 135 helicopters and pilots, initially for three years, with a possible extension for a further two years.

“This is great news for everyone,” said Rodney Connor. “We fought long and hard to ensure that St. Angelo was the second base and all the trustees agreed that the second ambulance should be at St. Angelo.”

He added: “The fact that the service will be doctor led means that between 18 and 50 lives will be saved each year and up to 300 people will have their outcomes improved because they will get to a trauma centre sooner. Nobody wants to use an air ambulance but knowing that the service will now be available in Northern Ireland will bring comfort.”

The absence of an emergency helicopter was highlighted during the G8 summit in Enniskillen, in 2013, when organisers had to rent an air ambulance from Scotland.

The late Dr. John Hinds, a consultant at Craigavon Area Hospital and one of the ‘flying doctors’ of Irish road racing had also been a vocal proponent of an air ambulance for Northern Ireland.