The Department for Transport (DfT) announced this week that it has signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide search and rescue helicopter services in the UK.

In his written statement to the House Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin MP said that the new £1.6 billion contract for search and rescue helicopter services will see the UK benefit from improved flying times and better coverage of high-risk areas.

"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.

"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".

85% coverage of high risk areas

Helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK search and rescue region within one hour of take-off than is currently possible, and based on historic incident data it is estimated that 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 search and rescue region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85% of the same area would be reached within this timeframe.

The announcement represents a major investment by the Government in providing a search and rescue helicopter service using the most up to date helicopters and meeting the highest professional standards.

Stuart Carruthers RYA Cruising Manager "We are very satisfied that Government has made this announcement.

"We had considerable concerns that there would be a real capability gap in the UK SAR service when the initial PFI replacement was cancelled because of the imminent retirement of the Sea Kings at the end of their planned life.

"Bristow Group's 10-year £1.6 billion contract to run the service from 2015 will be on the blackboard a better SAR service than that which is currently provided because of the capability of the new helicopters. 

"The MOD and the MCA have had considerbale experience of working together with Bristow in the past they are a known commodity

"The new Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestland 189s can fly at 140 knots - 30 knots faster than the obsolescent RAF and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters".

State of the art helicopters

Under the new contract, 22 modern helicopters will operate from ten locations around the UK.

  • Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, 2 per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports
  • Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, 2 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

According to the DfT all bases will be operational 24 hours a day. Operations will commence progressively from 2015 and the service will be fully operational across the UK by summer 2017.