East Midlands Air Support Unit

Cloud height, visibility and fog are major safety considerations for police air support units – and the ability to monitor real-time weather is paramount to ensuring safe operations. East Midlands Air Support Unit experienced first-hand the devastating effect that the weather can have in an emergency situation after a helicopter crash in 1998 resulted in a crew member tragically losing his life. The Air Accident Investigation Bureau reported an isolated bank of fog as being the main cause of the accident. The EMASU conducted an urgent review of all equipment and, with Skyview’s help, implemented a failsafe weather monitoring system to ensure that such a tragic situation could never happen again.  


Prior to being absorbed by the National Air Support Unit (NPAS), the East Midlands Air Support Unit (EMASU) provided police air support to the counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. Now operating as a national network which also benefits from Skyview’s installation, calibration, maintenance and support services, NPAS provides borderless support for 43 forces across England and Wales.

The Challenge

The UK weather is notoriously unpredictable and adverse weather conditions can have a severe impact on flight safety. The winter months can prove particularly challenging when a pilot can leave base in good weather, but within as little as 30 minutes, cloud and fog can jeopardise a helicopter’s smooth return to base.

With an average of two hours flying time in some cases, and a practical range of 200 nautical miles one way in good weather, or 150 nautical miles in poor weather, any unplanned re-routing could cause problems. The pilot and crew have a limited fuel supply, so deciding when and where to land is a major consideration for any emergency response helicopter crew.

Stringent legislation such as CAP 746 lists accurate meteorological observations as an absolute necessity to support safe and efficient air navigation.

Our Solution

Having worked with emergency response teams in our 30-year history, including the National Police Air Service, Devon Air Ambulance Trust, Royal Cornwall Hospital and Plymouth NHS Trust at their Derriford Hospital site, we are well versed in the challenges facing emergency response teams. Our qualified and experienced Skyview engineers provided an efficient, safe and cost effective system to facilitate critical decision-making.

A ceilometer using sophisticated laser technology was installed to measure cloud height and thickness for up to three cloud layers. A visibility sensor was also installed, giving accurate information. Data from both sensors can then feed into Skyview’s own SkyMet-i software, allowing current and historic data to be viewed whenever needed.

Data also disseminates to the specific aviation application of Skyview’s own Skylink-pro.com weather monitoring portal. Our feature rich, real-time weather web service has the facility to receive and query live cloud, visibility and weather data remotely or via SMS and includes national met data, satellite images, METARs, TAFs and charts.

When used in conjunction with the judgement and experience of the pilot and crew, Skyview’s equipment and services allow flights to be planned quickly and safely with no time wasted.

A Close Working Relationship

"EMASU has chosen Skyview as their preferred supplier of meteorological equipment and services for several years, working closely to ensure that the equipment is giving accurate and reliable information to assist with operations. The aircraft can relocate to any number of remote locations, in the past this could cause a problem with knowing what the weather is like back at base. 

We have a live feed to a weather web page, Skylink-pro, which we can access through the force control rooms. This can be invaluable in determining at what point we leave the remote location and return to base before the weather closes in completely. This in itself is a great asset to flight safety".

Graham Hancock, Chief Pilot, East Midlands Air Support Unit