West Yorkshire's mayor to take ownership of National Police Air Service's fleet of helicopters and aircraft amid uncertainty over its future

West Yorkshire's first elected mayor will oversee the running of the national police air service next month amid fears it does not have a big enough fleet of helicopters and aircraft to do its job properly.

The National Police Air Service (NPAS), which runs a fleet of 19 helicopters from a network of 15 bases across England and Wales, is operated from West Yorkshire Police's base in Wakefield.

But the helicopters themselves and the contracts that keep them flying are owned by the office of West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, whose job is to hold the Chief Constable to account and set the direction of Yorkshire's largest police force.

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According to NPAS's website it provides all police forces in England and Wales with air support 24/7, 365 days a year, assisting officers with a "variety of tasks". Stock pic by SWNS

As part of the devolution deal agreed last year the metro mayor of West Yorkshire will take on the functions and powers of the PCC after being elected next month and will choose a policing deputy. Neither of the Labour or Conservative candidates have yet announced who they will be appointing.And the transfer means that the governance and assets NPAS - as well as two other key national policing services based in West Yorkshire - will be held by the new mayoral combined authority in West Yorkshire.

According to NPAS's website it provides all police forces in England and Wales with air support 24/7, 365 days a year, assisting officers with a "variety of tasks".

It says: "This includes searches for suspects and missing people, vehicle pursuits, public order, counter-terrorism and firearms incidents, among others.

"During tasks, NPAS crews make use of state-of-the-art cameras and communicate directly with ground units and force control rooms, as they work together to help keep communities safe."

But minutes from a recent meeting of its National Strategic Board said the levels of availability for its fleet were "suboptimal" and described a "financial challenge" for the police forces that fund NPAS.

It said: "The service does not currently meet the demands of the user requirement and would need an injection of new fleet either internal or external to improve service."

The number of flying hours carried out across the country are being cut and according to the report work bosses are looking at bringing back into service aircraft which have been leased to Norway.

Last year it was announced that four new bespoke aircraft were being added to the NPAS fleet.

Based out of the NPAS base at Doncaster Sheffield Airport the aircraft will operate across the UK tasked in a similar way to the helicopter fleet.

The aircraft, Vulcanair P68, offer greater speed and operational endurance times compared to helicopters so are often used for tasks such as crowd monitoring as well as crime detection.

In a joint statement West Yorkshire Combined Authority, West Yorkshire Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner said the Home Office has been clear that NPAS's assets would need to transfer to the combined authority rather than the police force which operates the service.

And it said that in March NPAS's national strategic board chaired by West Yorkshire PCC Mark Burns-Williamson "agreed to progress a business case for aircraft fleet replacement".

It said: "This work is ongoing, with costs to be fully determined before a final decision is made by the Board later this year. These costs would be agreed nationally and not carried by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority or the Mayor.

“All costs for NPAS are recovered through the legally-mandated collaboration agreement, with contributions from all police forces across England and Wales.”

As well as NPAS, the governance and holding of contracts for two other major national services will also pass to the West Yorkshire mayoral combined authority.

VIPER, a team that provides a nationally available video identification service including a range of identification related products and services to the police every day, is used by forces around the country.

And West Yorkshire Police says its Police National Legal Database is the leading police information resource of criminal justice legislation and is relied upon by other forces.As of January 1 the operational delivery of all of these services transferred from the PCC to West Yorkshire Police, with the responsibility for governance and holding contracts transferring to the mayoral combined authority.