And the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter saga continues.
Out of the fat and into the fire! and the drama that continues to emanate from within the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust operation continues.
Now we see the plaintiff media pleading by the TRHT Chairman looking for yet more community funding because two, (yes TWO) major sponsors have indicated they are to withdraw their significant on-going financial support.
What is little known is that the community have already willingly contributed well in excess of ten million to this operation, but that a huge percentage of that donated funding has been quickly removed out of Taranaki, and with other funds otherwise mismanaged or squandered in an on-going saga of poor management and decision making over a number of recent years.
This is a valuable 'community' asset that has recently been systematically managed toward the brink of failure by a group of Trustees and Management, who have continually failed to heed the proven advice, skill and experience of seasoned industry personnel.
Isn't it about time that someone asked 'why' this generous sponsorship has been withdrawn by two significant and hugely generous community funding entities? Isn't it long overdue that questions were publicly asked and answered (transparently this time) around the insidious demise of a 'rising star' SAR and EMS Rescue Helicopter Operation that once boasted significant reserve funding, a dedicated and highly skilled team of community volunteers and a bright operational future. Surely there is an obvious need for an in-depth 'top-down' audit of the Trust's financial and operational management strategies before any further losses are sustained. Every donation, regardless of how small or large must be protected and prudently managed for maximum benefit to the community. There is absolutely no place for waste, extravagance or 'keeping up with the Joneses'!
So, now we see a daily barrage of media headlines begging for still more donations to 'save' this operation. But what's changed?, and when will the truth of the financial waste and incompetent management be publicly revealed? And what of the future of this community operation? To throw more generously donated community funding at the current management model will surely only deliver the same result. It would seem the solution to that question is clear!
Can TRHT be 'Rescued"? Should it in fact be 'Rescued'? or do we step back, and look to those who actually know how to operate a business of this nature?
Regardless of the nature of the business, the grass roots ethics required in managing any community donated money demand that extreme care is exercised by all involved, and that any extravagance is simply not an option.
The examples of what many will view as inappropriate or unnecessary expenditure over recent years have been many and varied, and while some may be argued as 'small in nature' or simply a necessity of doing business, it must be remembered that every dollar willingly donated is given in the belief that it will be used prudently for the core operation, rather than for nice-to-have, status or comfort items. And then of course, the negative fiscal and operational 'ripple effect' of these decisions must also be taken into account as they continue to exert influence on the day-to-day viability of the operation.
Some examples of what many would term 'questionable or inappropriate' are:
The purchase of a 'new' aircraft when a less expensive 'industry proven' model would have been appropriate for the SAR and EMS workload.
The repeated purchase of high cost equipment, poorly researched and subsequently unable to be utilised.
The true operating cost of the aircraft.
The lease and/or purchase of additional 'executive' vehicles.
The employment of full-time staff for a low-workload operation, and the subsequent disestablishment of the skilled volunteer team they replaced.
The unnecessary replacement of perfectly serviceable operational equipment.
Social, travel and accommodation expenses, where more conservative arrangements would have sufficed.
Needless to say, there is no doubt more, but this is not about nit-picking every dollar. It's about the 'Why' this valuable community asset is facing it's own demise under it's current management model, when in fact it has been heavily supported in both time and money for many years by the people of the wider Taranaki communities and sponsorship agencies. It's about what's 'really' going on, and what needs to change before 'D' day arrives and there is nothing left.
The other question that needs to be asked and answered is, what planned and potential expenditure is in the foreseeable future for TRHT and their twin engine AW109 aircraft?
Funded charities seem to have a knack for blowing out from within from an apparent disregard for economic realities. Maybe you can only afford a Bell 407 or Astar provided by a commercial for profit helicopter company and SAR-crewed by volunteers. Seems that model was working well for you before. It is pretty common here, which has similarities to your location.
While some social and community media would have us believe that TRHT has only just 'arrived', this has clearly been a very tidy operation over the years with a very strong Volunteer Team, a number of high quality Pilots, an extremely supportive community, and an amazing funding stream offered up by a raft of extremely generous sponsors. Anyone who has paid any attention will know that for a long time, only the highest operational skill standards were considered acceptable, only the most appropriate equipment was put in to service, and only the best operational performance was tolerated.
And to be fair, it would seem to be a natural progression that they move toward owning their own aircraft given the various business options available. When we look around we see comparable Rescue Helicopter operations that have successfully grown themselves into a healthy business entity, and offering a comprehensive service with a widely skilled team. In the not-to-distant past, TRHT were well on the way to becoming one of them.
So, once again, it begs the question. What is really going on that has caused this operation to fail to the point of imminent closure? When will the Public and the Community Sponsors require an 'in-depth' financial audit? and when will those who have been entrusted to manage this essential community funded asset be held to account for it's current position before more community funds are tipped into the same hole.
This is not going to be fixed by throwing more money at it. So if Taranaki is to retain a Rescue Helicopter Service, where to from here?
If David Wickham was "nervous" about the outcome of their sponsorship negotiations, one has to wonder how all the Waikato based sponsors of their various Waikato based operations might feel about the potential of Philips resources covering Taranaki workload with funds that will have been donated for the purpose of coverage by their Rescue Helicopter operation in their own local areas.
...and who is the Air Rescue Group? If the trust were to fold, Taranaki would get temporary crisis help from the Air Rescue Group, made up of eight rescue helicopter trusts including the TRHT.
ARG chairman Ross Black said the group would support the trust in any way it practically could, including providing temporary rescue helicopter coverage for the region.
If that happens, then clearly someone has some spare money, aircraft, crew and equipment to cover TRHT's SAR and EMS workload, but who will pay in the end? and what benefit will that be to the wider communities of Taranaki who still won't have any answers to "what went wrong", "where their money went" and “why they potentially stand to lose an asset they have well and truly paid for”. And all this at the hand of the current management of Taranaki's own Rescue Helicopter service. It's a simple concept called 'Accountability'.
No matter what angle we look at this from, and regardless of the 'short-term fixes' on offer, the people of Taranaki absolutely deserve some honest answers to some serious questions about why TRHT is facing imminent failure. Surely it must be time TET, TSB and other major local and national community sponsors insisted on a public investigation of the financial and operational activities of TRHT, and demanded some changes to the management of this vital community asset before we see external operators come in to take what’s left away.
ARG is the latest knitting circle the existing trusts with ACC contracts have formed themselves into. Although, it seems they have left out NEST and Hannibal Hayes.
Frankly, I can understand them not wanting to play nice with John Bain, Chair of NEST. He's done himself no favours. But, to cut out and aviator of the ilk of Peter Turnbull - who has been respresenting NEST - and leave discussion of aviation matters between the knitting circle and the Government; to the likes of Mark Marsters and David Wickham is silliness in the extreme.
And therein lays just one of the primary problems. Why is a Farmer running an Aviation Business? It's no wonder the operation is on it's knees!
And what of the remaining Trustees? What Aviation expertise is there amongst them? It wasn't that long ago that a highly respected, highly skilled, high hours professional Pilot joined their ranks as a 'nominated' Trustee. Unfortunately he didn't stay on the Board for more than a few months. One has to wonder why?
Taranaki's troubled rescue helicopter service is facing another obstacle to remain airborne with both of its pilots having resigned.
Last month the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter Trust announced it was in financial strife and needed to secure about $400,000 in extra funding to avoid having to wind up by the end of the year.
Trust chairman Mark Masters has confirmed both of the service's pilots, Sam Richmond, who is also base manager, and Fergus MacLachlan had resigned.
Mr Richmond, who started with the service in January 2011, will finish at the end of the month while Mr MacLachlan, who started in January this year, will leave at the end of October.
The trust has not been able to replace either pilot and won't be in a position to employ any pilots until it resolved its financial issues, Mr Masters said.
He said Mr Richmond had resigned before the trust announced it was facing a lack of funding and his job had been advertised.
"We received quite a list of candidates but due to the uncertainty surrounding the business we felt it was unwise of offer anyone a job."
The trust had not expected Mr MacLachlan's resignation this week.
Mr Masters did not believe the departure of the pair would disrupt the service performing rescue operations.
He said chief pilot Alan Deal, of Auckland company Helilink which runs the service, would provide cover and other options were being investigated.
"We are working with other trusts to see where we can share piloting and help us get through to a situation where we can put some permanent pilots in place," Mr Masters said.
He said the financial uncertainty that surrounded the trust and the big money on offer from commercial companies could make recruitment difficult.
"Naturally it does, but once we've got certainty around the financials then we will be able to go to pilots and say yes, we are in business and the business is secure.
"It is very competitive and unfortunately the sort of pilots that we need, with a lot of experience and capabilities, are the very pilots that are being sought after by the mining industry in Australia," Mr Masters said.
He could not say when the trust expected to resolve its money issues other than it was urgent.
"We've got a number of options and we've had some quite good offers and some quite good talks with some different companies but other than that I'm not prepared to comment any further until we have these things across the line."
He said as soon as the funding problems were solved the trust would be in a position to take on permanent pilots. "Then they can take up the job fully confident in the knowledge that yes, there is no likelihood of us falling over."
Last edited by Senior Pilot; 10th Sep 2012 at 01:10.
Reason: Add article
As the year slowly ticks on by, little has been heard from TRHT, other than to confirm the departure of TWO more Pilots after their relatively short tenure with 'Inflite' (aka HeliLink) and the TRHT operation. While no-one would criticise any self-respecting Pilot for seeking to extend their skills and experience, and improve their income opportunities, the expense incurred in repeatedly rating Pilots to an aircraft like the AW109 is indeed considerable, and is of course ultimately born by the community. So that said, the Trust must now rate two more pilots to their AW109 aircraft. To date that's a total of 9 Pilots by my calculation, since the introduction of the new AW119 in 2007, assuming of course that there are Pilots out there who are willing to make a move to TRHT under their current financial circumstances. Has anyone thought to look at why this has happened?
And let's not forget the paid crewmen and admin support staff, if there are any left. They could be forgiven for feeling more than a little 'nervous' about their respective futures as well, and especially so when your web site reports only 4 missions over the October month so far and similar numbers of EMS workload for previous months this year.
Come on Mr Masters, you were right out front with your hand out (again) not too many months ago telling all that the 'end was nigh' unless nearly half a million dollars was forthcoming before the end of 2012. TRHT is a Community Asset that has been heavily funded by the communities of the Taranaki Province for many years now. Surely it's time for an update on the fate of Taranaki's Rescue Helicopter, or should the people of Taranaki be planning to see the summer through under the watchful (but distant) eye of their neighbouring Rescue Helicopter Services?
And while you're at it, what is it you plan to do to ensure there won't be a repeat performance anytime soon? I'm sure many would agree that a $400,000 rescue package buys the community some 'up front transparency' instead of the 'smoke and mirrors' they've been used to seeing so far.
Last edited by P40 Kittyhawk; 25th Oct 2012 at 12:53.