Search and Rescue sell off

The Government has confirmed Britain's Search and Rescue service is to be taken over by an American firm. Half of the new fleet of 22 helicopters will be built at AgustaWestland in Yeovil.

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Yeovil's MP congratulates AgustaWestland

David Laws, MP for Yeovil, has today congratulated AgustaWestland on securing an important role in the delivery of a new contract which will secure jobs for the company, including at its Yeovil base.

The contract, details of which were confirmed today by the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, will see the company provide helicopters, equipment and technical support as part of a 10 year Search & Rescue delivery agreement.

The new agreement confirms that AgustaWestland will deliver 11 of its new generation AW189 helicopters as part of future Search and Rescue operations.

The AW189 model uses the most advanced technology and will replace Westland’s own Sea King model in existing Search and Rescue services.

This is another important order for AgustaWestland, and is the latest in a series of impressive successes for the company in providing cutting-edge aerospace technology.

Delivering Search and Rescue capability is a vitally important public service, and it is a testament to the high quality of AgustaWestland’s work that the company has been picked to deliver these services.

I would like to congratulate all the staff at AgustaWestland for their work in securing this important service.

– David Laws MP, Lib Dem, Yeovil
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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 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.

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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
  1. Chris Ship
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Govt to announce sell-off of Search and Rescue service

The government is set to announce that Britain's Search and Rescue service is to be sold off to an American firm.

Up until now, the operation has been run by the RAF, Navy and Coastguard Agency.

The firm will actually be awarded two contracts, because the service has been separated into two parts operating different types of helicopter.

An announcement is expected just before the stock market opens in the morning.

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