Press release

A new era for search and rescue

Search and rescue operations provided by contracted civilian crews.

Britain is to have a new fleet of faster and more modern search and rescue helicopters, the government has announced.

The new service will see search and rescue operations provided by contracted civilian crews and the government has today started the procurement process for a contract lasting around 10 years.

Under existing arrangements, search and rescue is provided jointly by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) - operating a fleet of Sea King helicopters from 8 military bases, with a further 4 civilian bases operated under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). The new arrangements will see the end of military involvement in a dedicated helicopter search and rescue service. This will allow the armed forces to focus their activity on front-line operations and enable the MOD to meet its previously announced intention to retire its fleet of Sea Kings by March 2016.

Shipping Minister Mike Penning said:

Every day around the UK, people undertake a range of activities where knowing there’s a reliable search and rescue service if something goes wrong is absolutely vital.

The current arrangements have served us well for decades, and we are grateful to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force for their great dedication in helping deliver an exemplary search and rescue service over the years. But we cannot ignore the fact that, after their sterling service to our country, the Sea Kings are nearing the end of their life and it is time to look to the future. Commercial operations are nothing new in this area - the MCA’s search and rescue functions have been provided on a contract basis for almost thirty years - and this system has served us well. This new, long-term contract will see the UK served by some of the most modern, well-equipped helicopters in the world.

Under the plans published today (28 November 2011), search and rescue operations at RAF Boulmer would end in 2015 and at Portland when the MCA contract expires during 2017. The winning bidder will be then be expected to operate from ten locations around the UK, but provide at least the same level of service as at present.

Today’s (28 November 2011) announcement follows the cancellation of a previous search and rescue helicopter procurement in February this year. Under these former proposals, search and rescue would have been provided by a commercial operator through a Private Finance Initiative using a combination of military and civilian crews. The project was cancelled following the discovery of irregularities in the bidding process.

The government expects to award this new contract in early 2013 to give the future service provider time to mobilise the new capability.

Notes to editors

The Department for Transport will today publish a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union to commence procurement for a new UK-wide service contract.

A copy will be published on the Department for Transport website.

For all military queries please call the MOD Press Office on 020 7218 7714.

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