UK/Suffolk: Search and Rescue to leave Wattisham as part of Government deal

A PRIVATE firm will take over the UK’s helicopter search and rescue operations, the Government has announced.

The Bristow Group has won a 10-year contract, worth £1.6billion to run the service from 2015.

The move, which will mean the end of 70 years of search and rescue (SAR) by the RAF and Royal Navy, will result in Suffolk’s SAR base at Wattisham being moved to Manston in Kent.

The Department of Transport said that under the new contract, 22 helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK. Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.

Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport. In addition to Manston, there will be new bases at St Athan and Inverness.

All bases will be operational 24 hours a day.

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

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“With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue 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 is an Aberdeen-based company, although the corporate headquarters of the Bristow Group is in Texas.

The firm has said it has already been preparing crews for coastguard duties at Sumburgh in Shetland and Stornoway in the Western Isles.

The new service run by Bristow will be fully rolled out by summer 2017

Mike Imlach, Bristow Helicopters Ltd’s Managing Director, said: “The award of this contract is a great success for Bristow Helicopters Ltd and a huge endorsement of our reputation for excellence in Search and Rescue. We are proud to be returning to our British heritage of providing world class SAR services in the UK.”

He added: “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.”

A statement from Bristow said its helicopters and pilots have already rescued more than 7,000 people in the UK. It also operates in the Netherlands, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Russia, Brazil and Canada.

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