UK SAR contest down to two bidders

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A long-running procurement programme for the UK's helicopter search and rescue (SAR) requirement has been whittled down to two bidders after a third competitor was required to exit the contest.

The UK Department for Transport, which is managing the process, confirms that Canadian operator CHC Helicopter is no longer part of the tender process, leaving Aberdeen-based Bond Helicopters and US firm Bristow Group as the bidders.

DfT declined to confirm the reasons for CHC's exit, but it is understood that the department's tender guidelines bar a company from taking its offer forward if it comes in 20% higher than one of the other contenders.

A letter issued to UK employees by Peter Bartolotta, CHC's chief operating officer, confirms the financial discrepancy. It reads: "The UK Department for Transport advised us that another bidder tendered at more than 20 percent below the price we submitted.

"We don't have insight to the financial or other motivations of competitors. But we know that the economics at a price 20 percent lower than our interim bid simply aren't right for CHC," it says.

Final submissions for the contract, which will see Royal Navy and Royal Air Force units equipped with Westland Sea Kings replaced from 2017, are due later this month, with a decision expected "in the spring" according to the DfT.

The bidders are staying silent on the aircraft they have proposed for the contract, but Flightglobal understands AgustaWestland's in-development AW189 has been put forward by at least one company.

CHC, meanwhile, will continue to operate SAR services from Lee-on-Solent, Portland, Sumburgh and Stornoway until 30 June under the so-called "interim SAR" contract. From July it will retain operations at Lee-on-Solent and Portland under "gap SAR" through to 2017, with Bristow taking over Sumburgh and Stornoway.

Additional reporting by James Ferguson, Aberdeen