Five rotorcraft operators have qualified to participate in the UK Ministry of Defence’s tender for the provision of search and rescue and support helicopter services in the Falkland Islands.

Announced on 23 April, the five shortlisted companies are UK-based Avincis, Bristow Helicopters, CHC Scotia and FB Heliservices, plus US firm AAR International.

None of the operators have provided detail of their possible bids, either in terms of the equipment proposed or the number of aircraft.

Presently performed by the Royal Air Force using Westland Sea Kings, the operation partly exists to provide a search and rescue presence for the service’s Falklands-based fleet of four Eurofighter Typhoons. However, the aged helicopters are due to be phased out from 2015.

The replacement requirement was originally included in a broader, UK-wide SAR outsourcing, but was later dropped from that deal. Instead, a separate initial pre-tender notice was issued by the MoD in August 2013.

The ministry proposed an initial 10-year contract to begin no later than the Sea King fleet's retirement in April 2016, with a value of between £100 million ($168 million) and £150 million. It stipulates a need for round-the-clock search and rescue provision, including for "fast jet ejectees". A secondary requirement for support helicopter services will replace the operations of incumbent British International Helicopters, whose three-year deal using a pair of Sikorsky S-61s expires in 2016.

Bristow last year won the UK-wide Long SAR contract, pitching a fleet of 11 AgustaWestland AW189s and 11 Sikorsky S-92s across 10 bases. CHC too has experience performing SAR activities in the UK, operating both from the north of Scotland and along England’s south coast. Additionally, it has previously operated an oil and gas crew-change contract with supporting SAR cover from Port Stanley, East Falkland, using Airbus Helicopters AS332 L2s.

Bond too continues to operate a pair of Super Pumas on SAR operations in support of the oil and gas sector in the North Sea, as part of its Jigsaw contract.

FB Heliservices – owned by Cobham's aviation division – and AAR International appear longer shots for the contract, although both can point to some experience in the sector. FBH provides SAR-configured aircraft to support the British armed forces in Brunei, Kenya and Cyprus, and for the Dutch Caribbean Coastguard in Curacao, while AAR operates a pair of S-92s in Afghanistan in support of the NATO mission.

Operators have until 20 May to submit their bids, with the contract scheduled to be awarded in early 2015.