Britain's search-and-rescue helicopter service to be taken over by US-based Bristow Group

Deal spells the end of the use of Sea King helicopters - flown by the Duke of Cambridge

Britain's search-and-rescue helicopter service, which employs the Duke of Cambridge, is to be run by US-headquartered Bristow Helicopters from 2015, the Government announced today.

The award of the £1.6 billion deal ends 70 years of a service run by the RAF and Royal Navy squadrons.

It also spells the end of the use of Sea King helicopters - flown by William - in search-and-rescue (SAR) work.

The 30-year-old Duke, the future Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is a Flight Lieutenant based at RAF Valley on Anglesey in North Wales, from where he commands missions to help stranded climbers and stricken vessels in the area.

In 2011 he is understood to have voiced his concern over privatisation plans to Prime Minister David Cameron when the pair met in Zurich, Switzerland, as part of England's 2018 World Cup bid.

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.

Half of the new fleet will be built in Yeovil in Somerset and the contract will have a significant impact on the UK supply chain, providing and sustaining jobs and apprenticeships.

The Department for Transport said that, under the new contract, helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK SAR region within one 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% (from 23 to 19 minutes).

Presently, approximately 70% 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% of the same area would be reached within this timeframe.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Our SAR helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea.

"With 24 years of experience providing SAR helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first-class service with state-of-the-art helicopters."

Bristow Helicopters said the "technologically advanced" helicopters would be operated by experienced crews with "world-class" skills.

It expects to create around 350 jobs to support the contract.

Mike Imlach, the firm's managing director, said: "We are proud to be returning to our British heritage of providing world-class SAR services in the UK.

"We will introduce new helicopters to the UK equipped with the latest search-and-rescue technology that will deliver unprecedented levels and quality of SAR coverage across the country.

"The existing expertise and local SAR knowledge is immensely valuable and we will ensure that this is not lost.

"Bristow Helicopters Ltd knows the responsibilities that go with providing this service and we are committed to working in full partnership with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and ensuring a smooth transition process and the long-term continued delivery of a world class SAR operation in the UK."

The company said bases would be strategically situated near areas of high SAR incident rates.

The base locations and equipment will allow the operation to dispatch seven aircraft simultaneously on one operation, it said.

Meanwhile, it promised the helicopters would be more advanced than the Sea King model they will replace, with night vision, mission management and increased on-board medical capabilities.

The company has provided SAR services in the UK since 1971.

According to the firm, it has flown more than 44,000 SAR operational hours in Britain and conducted more than 15,000 SAR missions, rescuing more than 7,000 people.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "We are deeply concerned that the privatisation of search and rescue, tied in with a programme of cuts including the loss of helicopter and Coastguard capacity, will have a seriously detrimental impact on these life-or-death services in British waters.

"The Government have not produced a shred of evidence that safety is paramount and this looks to us like another privatisation policy driven by both ideology and the central demand to cut budgets. The bottom line for us is that those cuts could cost lives and put our members directly at risk."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This extremely successful and well-established...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map