LONDON — A private company will take over the UK’s helicopter search and rescue operations, the Department for Transport has announced.
The Bristow Group has won a 10-year contract to run the service from 2015.
The 1.6 billion deal ends 70 years of search and rescue from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
Bristow will replace ageing RAF and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters with modern Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestland 189s.
Under the new contract, 22 helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.
Ten S-92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.
Ten AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee-on-the-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, and half of the new fleet will be built in Yeovil, Somerset.
The new deal will also see Bristow take over some of the civilian search and rescue bases currently run by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Bristow Helicopters is an Aberdeen-based company, although the corporate headquarters of the Bristow Group is in Texas.
The firm has already been preparing crews for coastguard duties at Sumburgh in Shetland and Stornoway in the Western Isles.
The other current search and rescue bases are Culdrose, Wattisham, Valley, Boulmer, Portland, Lee-on-the-Solent, Chivenor, Leconfield, Lossiemouth and Prestwick.
There will continue to be an RAF base at Valley, Anglesey, but the SAR unit will be in Caernarfon.
The new service run by Bristow will be fully rolled out by summer 2017.
RAF and Royal Navy Personnel currently involved in search and rescue could be transferred to other jobs in the military when Bristow take over.
However, under a programme of “managed transition” military pilots and crew will be able to apply to leave their service and take a job, if offered, with the private contractor. (BBC)