New Bristow's helicopters offer better coverage


The RYA are ‘very pleased’ with the Bristow deal to take over of the UK’s helicopter search and rescue operations, as first reported by Yachting Monthly in February 2012, but they will be ‘looking carefully at the implementation’.

Stuart Carruthers, cruising manager of the RYA, told YM that the Bristow deal – which consists of a 10-year £1.6 billion contract to run the service from 2015 – was ‘on the blackboard a better SAR pattern’ than that which exists with the RAF and Royal Navy.

He said the new Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestland 189s can fly at 140 knots – 30 knots faster than the ageing RAF and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters.

Under the new contract, 22 helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.

‘The MOD and the MCA have had a lot of dealings with Bristow in the past they are a known commodity,’ he added.

Ten S-92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.

Ten AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee-on-the-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, and half of the new fleet will be built in Yeovil, Somerset.

The Bristow deal will also see the company take over some of the civilian SAR bases currently run by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

SAR base changes

Culdrose – SAR operation moves to Newquay
Wattisham – moves to Manston
Valley – moves to Caernarfon
Boulmer – SAR operation ending
Portland – Closing
Lee-on-the-Solent – not moving
Chivenor – moves to St Athan
Leconfield – moves to Humberside
Lossiemouth – moves to Inverness
Prestwick – not moving
Other new bases added

Bristow Helicopters is an Aberdeen-based company, although the corporate headquarters of the Bristow Group is in Texas.

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

The other current search and rescue (SAR) bases are Culdrose, Wattisham, Valley, Boulmer, Portland, Lee-on-the-Solent, Chivenor, Leconfield, Lossiemouth and Prestwick.

There will continue to be an RAF base at Valley, Anglesey, but the SAR unit will be in Caernarfon.

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

SAR bases from 2017

St Athan

The Department for Transport began the procurement process in November 2011 for providing SAR helicopter services on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

It wanted an all-weather SAR helicopter service able to operate throughout the UK, including mountainous terrain and at sea. The government says the new Bristow deal means helicopters “will be able reach a larger area of the UK search and rescue region within one hour of take off than is currently possible”.

It also estimates, based on historic data, that there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20% – from 23 to 19 minutes.