Gigha Helipad

Royal Engineers from Kinloss Barracks join forces with the HELP Appeal helipad charity to bring a lifesaving helipad to the Isle of Gigha.


For the first time, the Corps of Royal Engineers, and the HELP (Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads) Appeal, the only helipad charity in the country, will be working together to build a much-needed emergency helipad on the community owned Isle of Gigha.


Gigha is located on the most southerly Hebridean Islands, three miles west of the Kintyre peninsula and around a three-hour drive from Glasgow followed by a 20-minute sailing on a ferry. Whilst there is a regular ferry service, Gigha is still a remote and rural community, and its inaccessibility can be problematic particularly during a medical emergency. By having a permanent, purpose-built helipad at Gigha Airfield, the Scottish Air Ambulance and larger coastguard helicopters can land and take off at any time on the island, transporting critically ill patients to the most appropriate major trauma centre or A&E hospital on the mainland.


Jane Millar, from The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, approached the HELP Appeal for support. By a happy co-incidence the charity had also been contacted by 39 Engineer Regiment in Kinloss, Scotland, asking if there was a helipad project it could be involved with to gain exercise experience of building emergency platforms. 39 Engr Regiment are the MOD’s high readiness air support Engineer force and the regiment strive to improve its understanding of helicopter infrastructure so it can react without delay to the needs of defence across the world.


In 2002, the Gigha islanders managed to purchase the island for £4 million under the Community Right to Buy scheme. They now own it through the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, which has teamed up with the HELP Appeal and 39 Engineer Regiment to coordinate the project. Currently the island operates on a “landing strip” of grass, which is a highly unsuitable surface for its volunteer ambulance service when escorting patients to a helicopter.  It can become waterlogged and muddy delaying their transfer to lifesaving treatment at a hospital on the mainland.


Robert Bertram, the HELP Appeal’s Chief Executive has agreed to fund the cost of the project - £150,000 - and 39 Engineer Regiment in conjunction with local contractors, will build the helipad.  It will be operational by April 2024. Once completed the HELP Appeal and 39 Engineer Regiment could construct more helipads in Scotland to speed up remote communities’ access to hospitals in medical emergencies. The HELP Appeal is also dedicated to partnering with other Royal Engineer regiments, to make helipads a reality on islands across England and Wales.


Robert Bertram, Chief Executive of the HELP Appeal says: “Gigha needs this helipad now as there is only one surgery on the Island with no Doctor, so thanks to our supporters, funding is available immediately and with the Royal Engineers on board I’ve no doubt that construction will be as efficient as possible ensuring it opens this Spring. Once built, the community will never have to fear that ground conditions will let them down again and they can be sure of a swift transfer off the island to hospital whenever they need it. I’m excited that this unique partnership will provide lifesaving access to hospital in an emergency.”


Captain Paddy Bryden of 39 Engr Regt says: “53 Field Squadron, is part of 39 Engineer Regiment, and we are delighted to be involved with this project. Our role in supporting military helicopters has many similarities to the construction of civilian helicopter infrastructure, and this opportunity offers valuable training for our specialist tradespeople. As a Regiment we are grateful to be afforded the opportunity to give back to our rural areas and having been born and raised in the Highlands myself, I recognise the disproportionally positive impact improved infrastructure can have on communities such as Gigha. We hope there might be future training opportunities for the Regt to work with the HELP Appeal team when our schedule allows.”


Jane Millar, Business Development Manager of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust says: “We are completely amazed by this opportunity with the HELP Appeal and Royal Engineers. The issues with the existing airfield have been raised for years, but there never seemed to be a viable solution for the community Trust to take forward. We know how difficult the current situation has been for our local emergency services, so this project will hugely support their work, and ensure safe access to hospital for our community. To receive this level of support from the HELP Appeal and the Royal Engineers has been incredible.”


Gigha resident, Maurice Forster, 53, agrees after he was airlifted to the HELP Appeal funded Queen Elizabeth University Hospital helipad in Glasgow in December 2023 for a medical emergency. Maurice was taken to intensive care immediately after landing.  He says, “The emergency services were amazing, as was the coordinator between them all. Within 20 minutes, I had arrived in Glasgow. The Air Ambulance is a crucial service, and a permanent landing pad in Gigha will make it even more seamless for our community.”


The HELP Appeal has funded or is funding 15 helipads in Scotland, including at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Campbeltown Hospital. The charity has also donated £200,000 towards portable landing lights for Scotland's Air Ambulance Service for 20 island locations across Scotland. It has funded 45 helipads across the UK, which have seen over 27,000 landings.



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