Sikorsky’s S-92 medium helicopter has won a milestone contest to provide search-and-rescue (SAR) services for the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).


The choice of Canadian helicopter operator CHC as preferred bidder to provide SAR coverage along England’s south coast and northern Scotland has given the S-92 a major breakthrough into the European government services market. The MCA is expected to lease four S-92s, plus two AgustaWestland AB139s, from 2007 to 2012 to meet its interim SAR helicopter requirement, say sources close to the project.

© Simon Murdoch

Final contract negotiations are under way between the agency’s parent ministry, the Department of Transport, and CHC for the provision of search-and-rescue services from three dedicated civilian-operated bases at Sumburgh, Stornoway and Lee-on-Solent on a 24/7 basis, as well as Portland on a daytime-only basis. The MCA says a contract award announcement is expected in mid-December.

The closely fought contest pitted CHC against the current operator, Bristow Helicopters, and British International Helicopters teamed with EADS.Although the interim five-year contract is expected to be worth only about £50 million ($86 million), the competitors saw it as an important stepping-stone to the larger SAR Harmonisation project, which envisages replacing all the UK’s existing civil and military SAR helicopter fleet from 2012.

The mix of light and medium helicopters is also a new development for UK SAR operations, which previously relied on helicopters in the Sikorsky S-61 Sea King class. Bristow says it has not appealed against the decision, but says it has formally lodged about 20 written questions on the procurement decision with the UK government and is awaiting answers before considering its next move.


Source: Flight International