The Emergency Aeromedical Support Service is to be established on a permanent basis.

The National Ambulance Service and the Air Corps have operated the service on a pilot basis since mid-2012.

The service helps the transfer of seriously ill or injured people in remote areas, especially in the west of Ireland.

Over 1,000 missions have been undertaken.

Many cases involve heart attack patients needing specialist treatment within 90 minutes.

The announcement was made today by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney.

The service operates with one helicopter out of Athlone and costs €2.6m a year.

The operation will be reviewed again over the coming years to determine if a second helicopter will be needed, if the HSE should take over the service and whether it should transfer to a civilian service, away from the Air Corps.