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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable