Bristows Helicopters win contract and confirm plans to refurbish Stornoway base

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Bristows Helicopters has been awarded the contract to deliver UK Search and Rescue Helicopter Services across the UK for the next decade.

The company had already been awarded the GAP SAR contract for Northern Scotland and are due to takeover the Stornoway base this summer but today’s announcement confirms their long term plans.

The Stornoway base will be refurbished as reported in the Stornoway Gazette last month.

The company said it was proud to be returning to its British heritage of providing world class Search and Rescue (SAR) services in the UK and pledged to deliver unprecedented levels and quality of coverage across the country. Scotland will play a central role as the administrative, training and maintenance hub for the new UK SAR fleet.

The award of the UK SAR contract to Bristow Helicopters Ltd, which will come into effect in April 2015 and run until 2026, was announced today by the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP.

Operating from 10 strategically located bases across the UK, using new hi-tech helicopters, the new service will be delivered by experienced crews with world-class skills, trained, qualified and certified to coordinate and execute SAR operations. Bristow Helicopters Ltd will be creating around 350 new jobs to support the contract and a transition agreement with the Ministry of Defence will ensure continuity of service and experience for military personnel transferring to the new operator.

Welcoming today’s announcement, 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. In Scotland we will be operating from existing bases at Sumburgh and Stornoway and new facilities at Inverness and Prestwick. These bases will be part of ten locations around the UK where new hi-tech SAR helicopters, their crews and support staff will be based. The bases are all strategically located near areas of high SAR incident rates.

“Stornoway and Inverness will host mission training for the UK SAR contract and have additional aircraft to support this work. This contract will see a major part of the UK’s Search and Rescue operations based in Scotland, with administrative functions, fleet maintenance and training carried out from Aberdeen. Aberdeen is also host to Bristow’s Flight Training Simulator Centre. The centre will be used to ensure our SAR crews can complete regular currency training and respond to aircraft technical emergencies in a safe environment.

“We will be introducing new, hi-tech helicopters to the UK, equipped with the latest Search and Rescue technology, resulting in 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 other SAR stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition process and the long-term continued delivery of a world class SAR operation in the UK.”

Under the new contract, the company will operate from 10 bases across the UK, strategically located near areas of high SAR incident rates. New facilities will be established at Inverness, Manston, Prestwick, Caernarfon, Humberside, Newquay and St Athan. Existing facilities at Lee-on-Solent and Sumburgh will continue to be used, and the base at Stornoway will be refurbished.

The base locations and equipment will allow the ability to immediately surge up to seven aircraft simultaneously to a single incident.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd’s UK SAR fleet will comprise 22 specially commissioned helicopters – the Sikorsky S-92 and the AgustaWestland AW189 – fitted with state-of-the art SAR support technology. The aircraft have significantly improved capabilities to the SeaKing helicopters they will replace. The cutting edge technology the crews will use includes night vision, mission management and increased on-board medical capabilities.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd has a long history of providing SAR services in the UK, dating back to 1971, when Whirlwind helicopters were replaced by Bristow S55 helicopters at RAF Manston, in Kent, and continuing with the operation of S61 helicopters working at four SAR bases, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Lee-on-Solent and Portland, until 2007. In 2012 the company was awarded the UK Gap SAR contract for Northern Scotland and, working in partnership with the MCA, will operate four SAR helicopters from Sumburgh and Stornoway, starting this summer.

In total Bristow Helicopters Ltd has flown more than 44,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted over 15,000 SAR missions, during which more than 7,000 people have been rescued by the company’s crews and helicopters.

The company has led the industry in introducing new aircraft types and technology to the civil market and SAR equipment it has developed has become the industry standard, resulting in Bristow Helicopters Ltd being recognised with the Queen’s Award for Innovation for its technical developments.