Commercial, Products, Public Service, Regulatory

Bristow Helicopters Wins £1.6 Billion UK SAR Contract

By By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief/Consultant | March 26, 2013
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UK Department of Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced that Bristow Helicopters is the final winner of the long awaited, and fought for, UK Search & Rescue helicopter contract worth £1.6 billion ($2.4 billion). It will run from April 2015 until 2026, with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Sea Kings being retired from service and all military crews standing down after 70 years. This also fits into the timetable for the expiration of the current Maritime Coastguard Agency contract with CHC Helicopters.

Sikorsky and AgustaWestland are the winning manufacturers, with the S-92 and AW189 selected. Ten aircraft of each type will form the operational 20 aircraft, with one of each type being kept for training.


UK S-92. Photo courtesy of Bristow



The 10 S-92s will be based in pairs at the following sites: Stornoway and Sumburgh (which already operate S-92s), Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside. The 10 AW189s will be based in pairs at Lee on Solent, Prestwick, St. Athan, Inverness and Manston.

McLoughlin stated that the new basing plan combined with the new aircraft would improve the service currently being provided by the military and MCA: “Helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK search and rescue region within one hour of take off than is currently possible, and based on historic incident patterns we estimate that there will be an overall 20 percent improvement in flying times, with the average flight time reducing from 23 minutes to 19. Presently, approximately 70 percent of high and very high-risk areas are reachable within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 percent of the same areas are reachable within this timeframe.”

The final contract contenders with Bristow Helicopters and Bond Offshore Helicopters, with the present operator of services from four bases, CHC Scotia, being told at the end of last year that it would not be asked to provide a final bid.

Spec sheet of AW189. Image courtesy of Bristow


The SAR-H replacement contract has been running for more than 10 years and has been very controversial. The ending of the military involvement in the service and it being handed over to a private contractor has also been controversial.

Half of the helicopter fleet, the AW189s, will be built at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil facility. The helicopter OEM had made a commitment for this to happen should their aircraft be selected for the SAR service. Sikorsky, manufacturer of the S-92, also plans to locate a supply hub in the Aberdeen region with will serve both the SAR fleet and the helicopters already working in the North Sea oil and gas industry.


AW189 rendering. Courtesy of Bristow


Defeated finalist Avincis (parent company of Bond) CEO James Drummond stated: “We would particularly like to commend the Department for Transport for running a very professional and robust bid process.” (Note: Rotor & Wing will provide a detailed analysis of this decision in the May 2013 print issue.)
Related: SAR News

S-92 spec sheet. Courtesy of Bristow

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