Search and Rescue sell off

The Government has confirmed Britain's Search and Rescue service is to be taken over by an American firm. Two Sikorsky S92 helicopters will be based at Newquay, and half of the new fleet of 22 helicopters will be built at AgustaWestland in Yeovil.

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Region's search and rescue services to be sold off

There has been a major shake-up of the search and rescue services. Despite vigorous campaigns, operations will move out of Portland, Chivenor and Culdrose to a new base at Newquay Airport.

The service will be run by a private company, Bristow, which is based in the US. It will mean that from 2015, 22 new helicopters will operate from ten locations around the UK. The Dorset coast will be covered by a base at Leigh-on-Solent.

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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.

West Cornwall MP's reaction to Search & Rescue move

Commenting on today’s announcement by the Transport Secretary that Search and Rescue services will move from RNAS Culdrose to Newquay Airport by 2017, the West Cornwall MP, Andrew George, said:

This is, of course, a bitter disappointment to those who have admired and supported the excellent and heroic service which the 771 Squadron has provided in the West for many decades.

It is regrettable that the service will be moving to Newquay. I have concerns that both the operational capacity of Culdrose and its capacity to attend many incidents in the far reaches of the Western Approaches – often 200 to 250 miles west of the Isles of Scilly – will not receive the same response from Newquay.

Although the S92 is a superior air frame to the Sea King, Culdrose has a clear locational advantage over Newquay in terms of its access to the many and challenging maritime incidents that happen in the far west.

This news does not in any way undermine the future of RNAS Culdrose itself as the naval air station is the fulcrum of the military Merlin air arm which is crucial for the future of Royal Naval operations.

– Andrew George MP, Lib Dem, St Ives

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Newquay's MP welcomes Search and Rescue move

This is a real vote of confidence in Newquay airport and the move of Search & Rescue from RNAS Culdrose will see significant investment in new facilities, new equipment and new jobs in Newquay and is welcome.

As the Search & Rescue operation goes through this significant change I want to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in having providing this vital life-saving service around our Island and look I forward to welcoming Bristow to Newquay.

– Stephen Gilbert MP, Lib Dem, St Austell & Newquay
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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
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