A US-based firm is to take on the country’s search and rescue helicopter services, which is currently carried out by bases such as RAF Boulmer, near Alnwick, Northumberland.
The Department for Transport has today signed a £1.6billion contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide the service from 2016.
A statement reads: “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 data it is estimated that there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20 per cent (from 23 to 19 minutes).
“Presently, approximately 70 per cent of high and very high risk areas within the UK search and rescue region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 per cent of the same area would be reached within this timeframe.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Our search and rescue helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea.
“With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first-class service with state-of-the-art helicopters.”
Under the new contract, 22 state-of-the-art helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.
Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports
Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports.
In the past, the plans to privatise the service and close RAF Boulmer’s search and rescue base has been criticised by MP Sir Alan Beith as well as local councillors.