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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
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

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment