MP demands answers on RAF choppers

AN MP will demand answers from the Government in Parliament tomorrow, on the fate of search and rescue helicopter cover at a Northumberland RAF base.

Sir Alan Beith’s constituency includes RAF Boulmer, one of six RAF search and rescue bases around the UK which are home to the aging Sea King fleet and their search and rescue counterparts in the Royal Navy.

New helicopters were meant to start arriving in 2012 to replace the Sea Kings, but following an investigation into misconduct during the handling of the private finance initiative contract for Search and Rescue Harmonisation (SAR-H), the scheme has been scrapped by the Government.

Sir Alan said: “SAR-H was meant to bring together the RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard arms of the search and rescue service and provide a fleet of new helicopters under a private finance initiative. Now that has been scrapped, I will be asking the Minister what proposals he has for providing replacement helicopters until a long-term contract is in place.

“There have been many times over the past couple of years when the Sea Kings based at RAF Boulmer have been grounded due to mechanical problems and this happens at other bases too.

“The Sea King has been a welcome sight to many people in trouble for many years but it is at or past the end of its working life now and we desperately need new helicopters. The mechanics who work on the aircraft deserve our thanks for their constant efforts to keep the fleet flying in very difficult circumstances.”

The preferred bidder for the SAR-H contract was the Soteria consortium, which proposed to replace the Sea Kings with the longer range and more modern Sikorsky S92.