23 October 2011 (UPDATED 5 November 2011) – Surf Life Saving WA is to take delivery of a new $2 million Agusta Westland A119 Koala rescue and beach patrol helicopter in early 2012.
They previously leased a Bell 206B JetRanger from Heliwest (VH-BIN) from late 2008 to early 2011 at a cost of $1200 per hour, and it accrued 300 flying hours in five months.
However, following three recent fatalities in Western Australian waters from shark attacks, the WA Government has provided Surf Life Saving WA with $1 million in funding. This has enabled them to lease an Aerospatiale AS.350BA Squirrel in the interim period whilst it waits for the A119 to be delivered.
The Squirrel performs better than the JetRanger with a full payload in high temperatures and is more reliable, but costs more to operate at $1500 per hour. The Squirrel was also selected as it was available immediately. The leased Squirrel will be used solely for shark and beach patrols, and cannot be used for rescues. It is based at Rous Head, Fremantle, indicating that it may be one of two operated by Azure Helicopters (possibly either VH-FLL and VH-ZRP).
The new A119 helicopter is currently being modified and repainted in Auckland, New Zealand by Heliflite Pacific. It is being fitted with floats, a rescue winch, and first-aid equipment. The new helicopter is being purchased, rather than leased. It does not cost much more to operate than the earlier JetRanger, but provides the SLSWA with more operational flexibility.