Board gives green light for chopper service merger probe
UPDATE: The AGL Action Rescue Helicopter Service will look seriously at merging with CareFlight NSW to save costs after the board gave the go ahead today.
The rescue service held its Annual General Meeting with committee members fully briefed on the due diligence process currently underway with CareFlight NSW.
"The board this morning has given our CEO Dave Donaldson the authority to conduct a due diligence in conjunction with CareFlight NSW, with the vision for an operational merger," Chairman Don Moffatt told the meeting.
"The guts of the amalgamation is that we remain independent and as such we would still be the AGL Action Rescue Helicopter Service.
"We do see some benefits in aircraft types, in crew, in engineering, administration and marketing; all the things that you would expect to get better if two companies hold hands who are like minded.
"We think it's a very exciting opportunity, we think it's great for the organisation, we think it's great for the government, we think it's great for AGL, and most importantly we think it's great for our staff," he said.
Mr Moffatt also addressed questions about local fundraising.
He said the 700 000 people serviced by the organisation's three helicopters could rest assured community raised funds would stay within the regions covered by Action Rescue.
"Any funding raised by this organisation will stay in this organisation," he said.
The announcement comes on the back of the AGL Action Rescue Helicopter's biggest annual fundraiser.
The Gala Ball held on Friday night has been hailed a success for the medical and rescue helicopter service, raising more than $100,000 for the organisation.
The Daily broke the news this morning that the AGL Action Rescue service could be merged with Sydney-based CareFlight NSW within six months under a plan to reverse its financial problems.
AGL Action Rescue board chairman Don Moffatt used today's AGM of the service to reveal the finer details of two years of low-key talks between the two boards.
The revelation comes at a time the local helicopter rescue service is suffering operational shortfalls of about $3 million a year.
Mr Moffatt said a merger with CareFlight NSW would improve efficiencies and reduce costs.
"I would say you'd save hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.
"That's not a dead set figure, but I'd say that's an intelligent estimate."
But he stressed a merger would not diminish the need for increased funding from the State Government.
Mr Moffatt said discussions between the boards were at the stage where each was assessing the other.
"If the due diligence comes up with a glowing report, I would say we've got a done deal, and personally I'm very hopeful that will happen."
The initiative still needs the support of members of both organisations but Mr Moffatt said he was confident that could be achieved.
"I'm very confident we'll get 100% agreement on this. I think it's a well-thought-out merger.
"The way we see it, there's only benefits, there's no downside."
While it would be an uphill battle, he said he believed a merger could be achieved within six months.
Ian Badham OAM, a director of CareFlight NSW, said his organisations were so far "very supportive" of the proposal.
"We've known the AGL guys for many years and we have a high regard for their structure of operation," Mr Badham said.
CareFlight NSW operates rescue services in Sydney and Darwin as well as the Top End Retrieval Service in the Northern Territory.
It operates three helicopters, two jets and five turbo-prop planes, compared to AGL Action Rescue's three helicopters based in Maroochydore and Bundaberg.
Mr Moffatt said the public was unlikely to notice much difference under a merged service but behind the scenes there would be a governing body that would continue to work to make all the savings and efficiencies.
Benefits of merging would include the sharing of aircraft, engineering services and expertise, as well as having one chief pilot overseeing the two organisations.
Administration, marketing and national fundraising would be shared and the rescue services would have a stronger voice in government discussions.
Mr Moffatt and Mr Badham stressed the importance of maintaining primary focus on delivering services to the local communities, saying both services would continue to maintain individual identities and sponsors.
"Money raised locally by either base will not be going across the border, I think that's right for both of us," Mr Moffatt said.