Chopper Rescue Bases Move To 'High Risk' Areas

Alistair Bunkall, Defence Correspondent

The US-based company which has won the right to operate Britain's search and rescue service said they will move some helicopter bases to "high risk" areas.

Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, Bristow Helicopters project manager Simon Tye said: "We have analysed with the Coastguard where the high risk areas are.

"And our basing option has been to move the bases - they are close to the military bases - but closer to the high risk areas.

"When you couple that with the faster aircraft, it is an enhance capability we are going to deliver."

The £1.6bn sale ends 70 years of search and rescue operations by the RAF and the Royal Navy and will end the use of Sea King helicopters, currently flown by Prince William, in that type of work.

Texas-based Bristow will now run the service in Britain from 2015 to 2026.

The RAF says it will end its search and rescue work from March 2016. Staff could take on other airborne roles or ground-based work, or apply to leave.

The Department for Transport said the contract would deliver improved flying times and better coverage of high-risk areas.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Our search and rescue helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea.

"With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first-class service with state-of-the-art helicopters."

Under the new contract, 22 helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK, with bases open 24 hours a day.

Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh in Scotland, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon, north Wales, and Humberside airports.

Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate from Lee-On-The-Solent, Hampshire, and a new hangar at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire. New bases will be established at airports at St Athan, South Wales, Inverness, Scottish Highlands, and Manston, Kent.

It is understood that the technology they will introduce is so advanced that the US State Department had to give its approval for it to be used in the UK.

Half of the new fleet will be built in Yeovil, Somerset, and the contract will continue to be managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The distinct yellow RAF Sea King helicopters and grey and red Navy versions were already due to retire from service in 2016 because they are too expensive to keep in use.

The aircraft, the workhorse of the skies, will long be remembered for its part in the Falklands conflict and the Fastnet race in 1979 when it helped rescue sailors from ferocious seas.

Bristow said its helicopters would be more advanced than the Sea King, with night vision, mission management and increased on-board medical facilities.

The US firm already provides transport services in the UK to ferry oil rig workers to and from platforms in the North Sea.

It is now the largest provider of search and rescue services in Britain after securing the UK contract and the contract for northern Scotland last year.

Its search and rescue work in Britain dates back to 1971 when its S55 helicopters replaced the aircraft at RAF Manston.

Until 2007, its S61 helicopters operated out of four search-and-rescue bases in Stornoway, Sumburgh, Lee-On-The-Solent and Portland, Dorset.

It claims to have flown more than 44,000 operational hours in Britain and conducted more than 15,000 missions, rescuing more than 7,000 people.

Managing director Mike Imlach earlier promised existing expertise and local knowledge would not be lost when it takes over.

"Bristow Helicopters Ltd knows the responsibilities that go with providing this service and we are committed to working in full partnership with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and ensuring a smooth transition process and the long-term continued delivery of a world-class SAR operation in the UK," he said.

The firm also operates search and rescue helicopters in the Netherlands, Norway, Trinidad, Australia, Russia, Brazil and Canada.

Prince William, 30, a future Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is a Flight Lieutenant based at RAF Valley in Anglesey, North Wales, and commands rescue missions in the area.

He is understood to have voiced his concern over privatisation plans to David Cameron in 2011 when the pair met in Zurich as part of England's 2018 World Cup bid.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes