AgustaWestland to upgrade old Sea Kings if new air fleet is axed

A £7bn contract with Soteria for 24 search-and-rescue helicopters may be scrapped by the Treasury

AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian helicopter company, is preparing to renew the UK's search-and-rescue (SAR) air fleet, if the coalition Government decides to scrap a £7bn contract for its replacement.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced last Thursday that he was suspending plans to replace the ageing Sea King fleet, manufactured by Westland Helicopters. The move has sparked safety fears, as the Sea King's lifespan is expected to end by 2017.

However, AgustaWestland is preparing to dust off two-year-old studies showing that it can extend the helicopters' lives to 2022. It is not clear how much this would cost, but industry sources say that the move is unlikely to provide value for money.

Under the terms of the £7bn SAR-H contract, a Thales-led consortium known as Soteria would provide 24 or more new aircraft working from 12 bases across the country from 2012. A private finance initiative scheme, Soteria would be responsible for training crewmen and for helicopter maintenance over the length of the 25-year contract, which the public sector would pay for in annual instalments.

Mr Alexander decided SAR-H needed to be reassessed to see if it was a necessary expenditure. A defence source said he expected a decision by the end of July, as the Treasury's press notice suggested that SAR-H would be looked into "as a matter of urgency".

This will do little to placate a nervous Whitehall. A senior figure said: "The Sea Kings are knackered and if the Government tries to cut the scope of the contract, availability [of helicopters] will suffer and people will die."

The source added that the Ministry of Defence, in conjunction with the Department for Transport, is against pulling the contract. Historically, much search-and-rescue was run by the military, but now more than 90 per cent is thought to involve civilians.

However, a source close to the Government claimed the Sea Kings will prove durable. He said: "There are other helicopters being upgraded around the world and it tends to be found that those upgrades aren't as difficult as had been anticipated."

The 12 bases cover 11,000 miles of coastline and 1.4m square miles of sea and land. The Soteria consortium includes Royal Bank of Scotland, the helicopter group CHC and manufacturer Sikorsky, as well as Thales.

Soteria is understood to be treating the project as ongoing. Executives have recently been holding meetings with staff across the country about SAR-H and will continue to do so.

Mr Alexander delayed the contract as part of a review of £34bn of schemes and loans approved in the final days of the Labour administration.

An £80m loan to the steel group, Sheffield Forgemasters, to build a press to manufacture components for the nuclear industry was one of the high-profiles plans that has been axed.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
News
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect