Helicopter and aeroplane crews from the National Police Air Service (NPAS) have been working with police forces across England and Wales in an unprecedented police operation against organised crime.
Image courtesy NPAS
At a scale and pace not seen before, police have coordinated over a thousand search warrants against Organised Crime Groups (OCGs), arresting hundreds of suspects and seizing cannabis plants worth hundreds of millions of pounds as part of Operation Mille.
Since the beginning of the year, NPAS has been engaged in a focused drive to identify and gather evidence of cannabis growing as forces nationwide crackdown on the activity which is commonly linked to much more serious violent and organised crime.
Clear and compelling evidence gathered on highly sophisticated thermal cameras by NPAS crews is often critical for forces in order to secure a magistrate's warrant to enter and search premises.
Chief Insp Sarah Towers, NPAS Head of Operations, said: “Our crews are perfectly placed to support forces in their drive to disrupt this criminal activity, which is often linked to serious and organised crime.
"Our thermal imaging equipment, plus the experience and local knowledge of our tactical flight officers, not only offers the opportunity to support forces in identifying suspicious activity but, critically, provides the quality evidence required to meet a court’s standard to secure a warrant and initiate criminal proceedings against those engaged in serious crime.”
All 43 police forces across England and Wales, working with Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) and partner agencies, dedicated resources to target the criminal networks involved in cannabis production and other serious criminality.
Cannabis factories also present a very real local threat. The size of criminal cannabis ‘factories’ means that damage is often caused to the properties themselves; the buildings can become dangerous as a result of fire risks, unlawful abstraction of electricity, fumes and water damage.
Anyone with information about a potential cannabis factory or drug dealing can contact their local force online or via 101. People can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or crimestoppers-uk.org
There are some key signs to spot a property could be being used as a cannabis factory:
Frequent visitors to a property at unsocial hours throughout the day and night.
Blacked out windows or condensation on the windows, even when it is not cold outside.
Bright lights in rooms throughout the night.
Electricity meters being tampered with/altered and new cabling, sometimes leading to street lighting. High electricity bills could also be an indicator.
A powerful, distinctive, sweet, sickly aroma and noise from fans.
Lots of work or deliveries of equipment to an address, particularly those associated with growing plants indoors without soil such as heaters and lighting.
An excessive amount of plant pots, chemicals, fertilisers, and compost.
Recruitment for line pilots open
This month NPAS has also implemented its latest recruitment drive for NPAS Line Pilots, as it looks to recruit experienced and talented pilots to join a number of its bases across England and Wales.
Whilst NPAS pilots come from a range of backgrounds and flying experiences, it is seeking applications from anyone who meets the essential criteria.
Over 75% of NPAS pilots have made the move across from military flying careers, as ex-military personnel are often suited to police aviation because many of their skills are directly transferrable, especially when it comes to maintaining situational awareness whilst safely operating an aircraft to the limits of its performance.
With a fleet of 15 EC135 and four EC145 rotary aircraft, plus four P68R fixed wing aircraft, NPAS provides 24/7 air support across England and Wales from 15 regional bases.
The service is fully embedded into regular policing, bringing vital support to dynamic operations. No other job, outside military flying, offers similar challenges, or rewards. Police flying comes with an unpredictability that tests a pilot’s ability to respond to rapidly changing circumstances.
Captain Paul Watts made the move into police aviation in 1999 following a 12-year Navy career, eight as a helicopter pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. Paul explained why police flying is an attractive prospect for pilots leaving a military career: “It’s unique in its variety and dynamic nature. Pilots will often not know where their mission is until they are airborne.
“Tasks can rapidly change. You may launch to search for a missing child and then be diverted to a high-speed pursuit, which could turn into a foot chase, armed incident or even a siege situation.
“This requires pilots to be highly flexible and make decisions under pressure.
“Much of NPAS’s tasking occurs at night so pilots need to have significant operational night flying experience, including aided and unaided off-airfield landings.”
Flying with NPAS
Every shift begins with a crew briefing, to include weather conditions, aviation notices and aircraft performance. Only then will an aircraft be task-ready.
Crews are on standby to be airborne within five minutes of receiving an urgent deployment.
Captain Ayla Holdom flies out of NPAS Bournemouth and has been a line pilot in police air support since 2016, having left the RAF in the same year. She said: “The direct impact we can have to on such a variety of police operations, and the level of autonomous responsibility for pilot and crew, is something you don’t get just anywhere in aviation.
“It is so rewarding when a force thanks us, as we depart a scene, for being a decisive part of the outcome in a way only an aircraft can. The job is a privilege.”
Working for NPAS
NPAS is currently recruiting pilots. Applicants require 1,500 hours total helicopter flying time although this is under review for military pilots and is expected to be reduced to 1,000 hours. A prospective £5k market factor uplift, from £7k to £12k, is also under consideration.
To find out more about the role of our pilots and hear more from those already doing the job:
To ask for more information, arrange an informal chat or register your interest, email: