Jobs losses at Norwich-based Sterling Helicopter as firm is wound up

Norwich-based Sterling Helicopters is being wound up with the loss of 19 jobs - unless a last-minute attempt to find a buyer succeeds.

Time ran out for the specialist helicopter charter firm at the end of last month after two creditors Toby Blackwell Limited and the charity East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) applied to the High Court for the company to be placed into liquidation.

Sterling, whose clients once included several multi-national firms such as BP, Shell, and National Grid, also operated flights for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service, and Norfolk Police helicopter, while its training services for pilots' licences was also one of the most successful in the country.

It also provided private and professional pilot training, executive air charter, aerial surveying, photography, TV filming, flying lessons, as well as pleasure and wedding flights.

But the loss of those major corporate contracts sent the firm into a tailspin and sparked an exodus of key staff with numbers falling from 50 to the current levels.

That loss of key personnel also lead to the Civil Aviation Authority withdrawing its air operators certificate in February - a move which grounded flights by the East Anglian Air Ambulance because it meant Sterling could not operate any helicopter commercially.

Air ambulance bosses then switched to another firm, Bonds Air Services, but the decision also affected the police helicopter as well as a contract with Transco.

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Started by Gerry Hermer, former RAF search and rescue commander in 1989, the company is now a shell of it former self, with only a small fleet of helicopters left, and only one Cessna Citation, believed to be fully air worthy.

Matt Howard from accountants and business advisers PKF (UK) LLP, who has been appointed liquidator, said the first goal was to find a company willing to take on the business.

But he conceded that time was running out unless a buyer could be found in the next couple of days

'All the staff have been laid off by the official receiver,' Mr Howard said. 'It's very early days for them, because they are specialist people. But the longer the place stays shut, the less chance there is going to be of a resurrection. I'm not going to be in a position of spending weeks waiting for someone. If someone does come forward it's got to be in the next few days. If that doesn't happen we will be looking at disposing of what we have got here.'

But with unit space at the airport at a premium, Mr Howard said there was an outside chance of another aviation firm coming in.

'There is a slim chance that we will be able to salvage the company and we hope that a new business will emerge from the former home of the EAAA,' he added. 'There's a real shortage of accommodation at Norwich airport. There are no units available, so if units do suddenly become available it could appeal to someone.

'We have got a unit that was purpose-built for the East Anglian Air Ambulance when they came here. As a facility it is ready to go. It's fully fitted out and could be up and running pretty quickly, but whether anybody would want to take on the aircraft Sterling has is a different matter.'

Any parties with expressions of interests in any part of the business should contact PKF Norwich office on 01603 615914.