US private contractor to take over UK search and rescue ops
Based in Texas, Bristow Group will start providing security and
rescue services on UK soil and under the contract will remain there
until 2026. Thus, it is drawing the final curtain on 40 years of
the iconic yellow Sea King helicopter, and 70 years of Royal Air
Force and Royal Navy rescue service.
The UK government insists the 90-strong fleet of aging Sea King helicopters is approaching the end of its working life anyway and it is time to find a replacement. It could cost as much as £1.6 billion, according to the Telegraph.
But while officials insist that faster and more modern helicopters, which the Texas-based firm has, will be able to provide a better service, civilians and experts argue that being in the hands of commerce rather than the military could potentially have negative consequences.
“There is still concern about the possible risk to life by
the change. I would like the process halted. I am disturbed there
has been no proper consultation,” chair of the Commons
transport select committee, Louise Ellman, told the
Amongst those who have protested the move are doctors,
mountain-rescue volunteers, and workers in the maritime industry
and people who have been rescued, saying that the US helicopter
rescue service will not be as effective as that provided by RAF and
Royal Navy pilots and crew.
Some fear that the new service will include fewer and possibly smaller helicopters that operate over shorter ranges.
There have been concerns that the new contractor will ban pilots
from flying in harsh weather conditions, particularly in
mountainous areas, thus, possibly leaving people in danger.
Besides that there has been unease about how effective civilian
pilots will be in the rescue role compared with their military
counterparts. Some experts say the US contractor might fail to
invest in live training exercises with volunteer rescue teams in
order to protect profits and helicopters.
Although the Sea Kings were due to be phased out around 2016,
there are fears that numerous jobs for trained personnel could be
lost as a result of the privatization.
The Sea King will be replaced by the twin-engined Agusta
Westland AW1 89, and the Sikorsky S-92. The Sikorsky S-92 fell
subject to scrutiny in 2011, after a number of S-92 pilots reported
struggling with their health after spending relatively short
periods of time at the controls of the helicopter, according to
Dagbladet, a Norwegian tabloid.
Some 22 of the new helicopters will operate from 10 locations
around Britain, and all bases will operate 24 hours a day.
Four S92s will be based in Scotland, while the other six will be based in England and Wales. Ten AW189s will operate, from Hampshire and Glasgow, while new bases will be established, South Wales, Inverness, and Kent.
Bristow currently operates in parts of Europe, Asia, North
America, Australia and Africa, and has been a service provider for
the oil and gas industry, including taking control of rescue