Optimising efficiency in the National Police Air Service

The National Police Air Service used operational research modelling techniques to optimise the location of bases, response times and use of its aircraft to achieve a 14% budgetary saving.

Blue Police helicopter flying in front of blue skies with a little cloud.

The Problem

The National Police Air Service (NPAS) was formed to provide a national airborne response capability with borderless tasking, and has the aim of delivering a cost-effective service which yields actual savings for the service.

Before NPAS, there were 30 bases and 31 aircraft serving single forces or groups of forces. By 2014 this had been reduced to 23 bases and 24 aircraft, resulting in savings of 23% (£11 million) between 2012 and 2015, but there was still a requirement to identify further cost savings.

The Solution

A simulation model was built to examine the NPAS’s ability to respond to calls for support. The following requirements had to be included in any solution:

  • Modelling all 23 bases and 24 helicopters, as well as accounting for the concept of fixed wing aircraft
  • Covering 300 operating areas for 42 forces
  • Providing different types of support, such as pursuing vehicles and searching for suspects
  • Uncertainty in priority, duration and tasking

It was also important to capture the chance of a task being abandoned because of poor weather, as this was a priority consideration for the NPAS. Other inputs included base operating hours, pilots’ shift lengths, maintenance schedules, interruptions to tasks, changing priorities and refuelling.

The resulting model provided a visual representation of the service, showing a map of the bases, tasks and aircraft responding to tasks. There was also an information feed of when tasks are generated.

The Value

The model did not simply present one solution, but could achieve a range of savings between 7% and 28% by adjusting:

  • Base numbers and locations
  • Mixing the fleet of helicopters and fixed wing craft
  • Types of aircraft at bases
  • Locations of fixed wing patrols
  • Base operating hours
  • Change in the distribution for the priority of the call for support

Following this, the NPAS’ board agreed on a 15-base, 23-craft fleet model which achieved an approximate saving of 14% of the current budget, which was in addition to the original 23% saved when creating the NPAS. The simulation also provides what-if analysis on other decisions that can be modelled, and has prompted the National Strategic Board to consider a new fleet plan and estates plan, and the National Police Chiefs Council has used it to adopt a new deployment model. There is also the possibility that the model could be used by other air support providers wishing to look at a national service.

The Chief Operating Officer for NPAS, Tyron Joyce, said, “As a direct result of this work we were able to develop the new operating model and base locations and latterly a completely new funding model. I have no hesitation in describing its use as essential during the process.”