Don Moffatt (Chairman, SCHRS), Geoff Leddy (RACQ President), David Donaldson (CEO, SCHRS), Mark Brownfield (General Manager Marketing & Retail Sales, AGL), Rick Harvey (Aircrew Officer)
Don Moffatt (Chairman, SCHRS), Geoff Leddy (RACQ President), David Donaldson (CEO, SCHRS), Mark Brownfield (General Manager Marketing & Retail Sales, AGL), Rick Harvey (Aircrew Officer)

Coast rescue helicopter service merges with southern cousin

THE Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service will merge with Gold Coast's CareFlight Group Queensland.

The announcement was made at a media conference this morning, just a day after the Sunshine Coast provider announced a new naming rights deal with the RACQ.

The merged organisations will be known as CareFlight Group Queensland.

In  an Australian first, the merger will bring together operations in the Sunshine Coast, Bundaberg, the Gold Coast and Toowoomba.

Newly appointed group chairman Rob Borbidge said the decision was powered by a mutual desire to improve patient outcomes and maximise the delivery of life-saving 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."

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 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," Mr van de Velde said.

"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," outgoing SCHRS Chairman Don Moffatt said.

"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," Mr Donaldson said.

"And that all means 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."

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," Mr van de Velde said.

"Today marks only the second day since this merger officially took effect," Mr  Borbidge said.

"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."



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