CALLS for help to the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter jumped by 40 per cent last year, adding to the financial pressures on the volunteer lifesaving service.
Last month alone, the number of emergency flights equalled that of the whole of the December 2007-January 2008 holiday period.
The service's general manager, Kris Beavis, said more flights meant higher operating costs, which last year topped almost $5 million.
“Our operating costs are rising,” he said, blaming the sharp jump in aviation fuel and labour costs over the past two years.
“We are chasing new donors, but it's a difficult market out there.”
The helicopter service is now looking at new ways to raise money from the community without diverting the carrier from the job of saving lives.
Mr Beavis said the service recently opened another op shop in Grafton to raise funds and may open more.
The service has four pilots who fly rescue missions, transporting patients to as far away as Brisbane, and relies on volunteers to raise between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of its annual costs, with the NSW Government covering the difference.
Mr Beavis said there was no single apparent reason for the jump in the number of emergency calls, but speculated the appointment of full-time paramedics about six months ago may be one cause of the additional demand.
The Westpac helicopter was called out 39 times in January, up by a third, compared with the previous year.
Twenty-nine of last month's call-outs, compared with 20 the previous year, were responding to life-threatening crashes, snake bites, pool and beach rescues, and horse-riding accidents.
The appointment of full-time paramedics six months ago may be one cause of the demand.