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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Under the new contract, 22 state-of-the-art helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.
Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh in Scotland, and at new bases at airports in Newquay in Cornwall, Caernarfon in Wales and Humberside.
Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick Airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports
All bases will be operational 24 hours a day.
The new contract will be managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the same way as the existing contract that operates the Coastguard helicopter bases on the south coast and on the Western and Shetland Isles.
The deal for Bristow Helicopters to run the country's search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter service is worth £1.6 billion.
It ends ends 70 years of SAR service from the RAF and the Royal Navy SAR squadrons. It also spells the end of the use of Sea King helicopters in SAR work. It is not known whether Portland, Culdrose or Chivenor will be affected.