Military SAR helicopters from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are being replaced by a private civilian operator, starting from today

The first civilian UK search and rescue helicopter bases were opened on 26 February 2015, and will be operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd. A ceremony was held at the new SAR base at Humberside Airport to mark the occasion.Ten bases around the UK will be opened in a phased approach from 1 April 2015, located strategically close to areas of high SAR incident rates.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd will operate the Search and Rescue Helicopter service for the UK on behalf of HM Coastguard, having been awarded the ten year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013.

Humberside and Inverness will be the first bases to open. Bristow will deliver the UK SAR helicopter service with state-of-the-art helicopters, equipped with the latest search and rescue technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.

Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA)

Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA)

The opening ceremony was attended by the Rt Hon John Hayes MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive of the MCA, and representatives from the military and other search and rescue organisations who will work with the new service.

John Hayes MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport said: ‘As the Minister responsible for Her Majesty’s Coastguard, I am delighted to be in Humberside on this historic day when we are on the cusp of launching this new state-of-the-art helicopter service.

‘Although I would clearly rather everyone avoid the circumstances where a search and rescue helicopter rescue is needed, I very much look forward to hearing about the professionalism and commitment that resides in all that work here and which will surely save lives from 1 April.’

Sir Alan Massey Maritime and Coastguard Agency Chief Executive said: ‘I am hugely proud that HM Coastguard has been entrusted with the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. For us this is a continuation of the high-quality service that we have been providing in selected areas of the UK for the last 30 years.The Bristow helicopters and crews will be replacing the military personnel and aircraft that have provided the service until now.

‘The RAF and RN have set the bar incredibly high, and I would like to thank them for their service and recognise the outstanding work they have done both inland and on the coast over many decades. We will take their legacy forward with the utmost pride and care,’ saild Massey.

Samantha Willenbacher, Director of UK Search and Rescue at Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: ‘We have enormous respect for the dedication that our military colleagues have demonstrated in delivering search and rescue over the past 70 years and we have always understood how vital it is that their knowledge and expertise is maintained. We have worked closely with them in preparing for the civilian service to go live and have also welcomed many of them into the new civilian SAR force, including Chief Pilot here at Humberside Liz Forsyth, a former SAR Commander at RAF Lossiemouth and Pilot Flight Commander at RAF Valley.

The UK SAR bases at Caernarfon and Kent will go live on 1 July 2015, followed by St Athan on 1 October 2015. Prestwick and Newquay will become operational on 1 January 2016 and the remaining three bases at Lee-on-Solent, Sumburgh and Stornoway will follow in 2017.