Bristow preparing for smooth transition to its UK search and rescue operation

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Bristow Helicopters is now beginning a two-year "work-up period" ahead of its gradual transition to performing all the UK's search and rescue activity from 2015 following its victory in the country's Long SAR contest last month.

The company was awarded the £1.6 billion ($2.4 billion) deal on 26 March by the UK Department for Transport and will run the SAR operation for up to 10 years.

Crew training will take place at a number of locations across the country as the operator installs simulators for the AgustaWestland AW189 and Sikorsky S-92 in Aberdeen. Training aircraft will be located in Stornoway and Inverness. Additional lessons will be delivered at its Bristow Academy in Gloucestershire, says Simon Tye, UK SAR project manager at Bristow.

Tye points out that its work ahead of the interim Gap SAR contract - due to commence this summer from Sumburgh and Stornoway - will ensure it has the building blocks in place to make a smooth transition to the new contract.

"One of the things we have had to demonstrate is resilience in the system - we can't afford to go off-line at any of the bases," he says.

Bristow picked the developmental AW189 for the shorter-range operations, says Tye, based on successful experience with the smaller AW139 in the SAR role. "The AW139 is a proven SAR machine and we see the benefits of the lessons learned from that being transferred to the new aircraft," says Tye.

Additionally, it is the launch customer for the type and will receive its first example, configured for oil and gas operations, in September this year allowing it to gain valuable experience with the new super-medium rotorcraft. The first SAR-roled AW189s will follow in the first half of 2014.

Its crewmen are working with the airframer, which will produce the helicopters at its Yeovil, UK factory, to develop a bespoke mission management system for the rear of the aircraft, says Tye, designed to maximise the available space.