Communities the length and breadth of NI will have encountered the helicopters of the PSNI Air Support Unit at some point in the last three years, and facebook in particular floods with complaints about hovering noise during deployments, but how much is all this costing?

BtP has been pestering the FOI team at PSNI Headquarters in recent weeks about their awful recording of Air Support unit data, and we can now reveal the final responses we have received, with some other questions still ‘up in the air’.

The Air Support Unit current has three aircraft, with the third purchased and operational since July 2013.  We asked three fairly simple questions on your behalf:

  1. How many times each aircraft was deployed in each policing district in the last three years
  2. Average cost of each deployment, and the cost of fuel used in each year by each aircraft
  3. Maintenance costs for each aircraft including repairs in the last three years

Before we delve into the figures, a reminder of the PSNI policing districts (before they were changed recently) and a subsequent reminder that in 2015-16, the PSNI will have £40.4m less in their budget due to cuts.


You might think, given the issues of traffic and the size of the city, that Belfast (Districts A and B) would have used the aircraft more than any other area, but you’d be wrong.


Remember this?

The Army had to rely on helicopters to patrol South Armagh for fear of attacks on vehicles

In a very interesting development, we see that District E, which covers the vast majority of County Armagh, actually has by far the highest number of deployments – 2,120 between 2013-2015.  This begs the question, given the significant number of operations against dissident republican groups, and the reputation of the border county, particularly around South Armagh as ‘Bandit Country’ – are the PSNI following in the footsteps of the British Army and using aircraft as a substitute for road transport in the area for fear of attacks?

In terms of the cost of fuel (our second question), in a rather convoluted way the PSNI told us that for 2012-13 and 2013-14 the fuel costs also included items like landing fees, insurance and sundries.  Regardless, the costs are astronomical.


The PSNI tell us they do not keep the records of the average cost of each deployment.  All of this fuel (and some other costs where applicable) over the last three years, has cost you the taxpayer a total of £2,384,392.31 

Answering our third question (in a round about way), the PSNI could only give us the total cost for maintenance for the two aircraft it had in 2012-13 – it was £442,815.82.

For the other two years, the data is as follows:


In the three years that we asked for, the total maintenance costs for the Air Support unit aircraft is £3,347,534.12.

In total, fuel and maintenance, over the last three years the PSNI has spent a whopping £5.73 MILLION pounds on deploying and keeping their aircraft fleet maintained – all of this at a time front line policing is facing cuts.

One final point is to be made from our information – we asked a final question – ‘The date and purpose of any incursion into non-UK airspace (of PSNI aircraft) in the last three years’.

The PSNI refused to answer under grounds of ‘national security‘ – but did admit that yes, “on occasion PSNI do cross into Irish airspace but do not leave UK territory”.  We’ll leave that one with you.

Another BtP exclusive.


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