Search & rescue service sell-off

The Government has announced that Britain's search and rescue service has been sold off to a US firm for £1.6 billion, ending 70 years of operations by the RAF and the Royal Navy.

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Anglia

Suffolk to lose air sea rescue base

The region is to lose its only air sea rescue base as part of a radical reshuffle of the service.

The base at Wattisham in Suffolk has been home to 2 RAF Sea King helicopters covering the East coast.

Now the private firm Bristow is to take over the service from the armed forces, and the Wattisham operation will move to Manston in Kent.

Wales

New search and rescue fleet

AW189
Two Augusta Westland AW-192 helicopters will be based at St Athan Credit: Bristow Helicopters

After winning the contract to take over search and rescue helicopter cover from the RAF, Bristow Helicopters have released details of the new fleet that will be deployed in April 2015.

There will be two helicopters at both its Welsh bases -Caernarfon Airport and the MOD site at St Athan near Barry.

S92
Caernarfon Airport will get two Sikorsky S-92 helicopters Credit: Bristow Helicopters

Caernarfon's Sikorsky helicopters will cover an area of 250 nautical miles around the base and each carry three stretchers and up to 10 seated casualties. Augusta Westlands will cover 200 nautical miles around St Athan and each have room for two stretchers and six seated casualties.

All the helicopters will have a crew of four and be capable of flying at 145 nautical miles an hour.

New rescue helicopters 'will reach larger area of UK'

The Department for Transport has said that under the new contract helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK Search and Rescue region within an hour of take-off than is currently possible.

An RAF Sea King helicopter that will no longer be used under the new contract. Credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

It added that, based on historic incident data, it is estimated there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20 percent (from 23 to 19 minutes).

Presently, approximately 70 percent of high and very high-risk areas within the UK SAR region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 percent of the same area would be reached within this time frame.

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Background to Search and Rescue privatisation

A Sea King helicopter
A Sea King helicopter Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The plans to privatise search and rescue helicopters were laid originally out by the Labour government in 2006.

The plans were controversial, and designed to replace the ageing Sea Kings that were currently in use.

Soteria SAR was announced as the frontrunning bidder in February 2010, but a year later it was prevented from acquiring the contract due to several issues with the conduct of their bid team, as well as forming part of the coalition government's spending review.

Factfile: The Sea King helicopter

The Sea King helicopter has been in service for over four decades, with a distinguished history with the Search and Rescue service as well as other assignments.

  • The Sea King has operated in 10 wars and been involved in 15,000 rescue operations
  • It has saved more lives than any other aircraft
  • It is reportedly Prince William's favourite aircraft
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