World

March 27, 2013

Future of U.K. helicopter search and rescue agreed

A Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter from 22 Squadron during the rescue of an injured fisherman from the French trawler Alf (left) in the Irish Sea.

The United Kingdomís Department for Transport announced March 26 the signing of a £1.6 billion contract to provide the U.K.’s search and rescue helicopter services.

The award of the contract to Bristow Helicopters Ltd was announced by the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin.

U.K. search and rescue is currently provided by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel using Sea King helicopters from eight bases across the United Kingdom and through a civilian helicopter service under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency from four bases.

The new service procured by the Department for Transport will operate in a similar manner to the existing MCA contract and will run for 7-10 years. The contract will be managed by the MCA.

The new service will operate a mixed fleet of 22 state-of-the-art helicopters from 10 locations around the United Kingdom:

  • Sikorsky S92 helicopters will continue to be based at the existing MCA bases at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.
  • AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters will operate from Lee on Solent, Prestwick airport, and new bases at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports.

All bases will be operational 24 hours a day. These base locations are strategically placed near areas with high SAR incident rates and will help ensure maximum operational coverage across the UK while reducing transit times to incidents.

An RAF search and rescue helicopter during a mountain rescue.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd and the MOD have agreed to a ëmanaged transitioní to enable service personnel who wish to continue to work in UK SAR to do so without risking the current military service provision. This process is entirely voluntary and available to all ranks of military personnel in search and rescue roles.
All decisions will be based on the manpower requirements of the RN and the RAF at the time. Those who wish to stay in the services will be re-deployed elsewhere as part of their normal career pattern. Civilian personnel currently working for UK SAR will have the opportunity to work with Bristow Helicopters Ltd under the rules of Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment).

The new UK SAR service will become operational during a phased transition during which the military search and rescue service will be drawn down. This will take place between spring 2015 and early 2016, and will enable current SAR Sea Kings to be retired from service. The MCAís four bases will transition to the new service in 2017. By summer 2017 the new contractor will be fully operational at all 10 bases.

The bases from which the RAF and RN currently provide search and rescue are: RAF Boulmer; RAF Valley; RAF Lossiemouth; Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose and HMS Gannet at Prestwick. SAR also operates from Wattisham, Chivenor and Leconfield. All these bases have a wider military role and their future is not linked to this UK SAR announcement.

Personnel currently involved in SAR duties have been briefed on the details of this announcement.




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