Bristow Helicopters is now a month in to its £1.6 billion ($2.5 billion) contract to take over the UK’s search and rescue service from the military, but it is still unable to say when the AgustaWestland AW189 will be utilised for the work.

Two AW189s were due to be up and running at Bristow’s Inverness base from 1 April. However, programme delays mean that an additional pair of Sikorsky S-92s have been used as a contingency.

A further two AW189 bases – each using two helicopters – are due to come on stream this year, but Bristow has so far only taken delivery of two examples of the 8.3t rotorcraft “with acceptance activities on the third commencing in May”, it says.

“The AW189 continues operational evaluation for entry into service; it is too soon to say when the aircraft will be operational,” it adds.

Manston airport in Kent was due to become operational using the AW189 soon, having been originally scheduled to take over from Royal Air Force crews based at Wattisham airfield in Lincolnshire from June 1. However, with the closure of Manston, Bristow has been scrabbling to line up an alternative site before the go-live date.

It has now selected Lydd airport in Kent, where work is under way to prepare its hangar and crew accommodation.

Test flights will begin at Lydd from 1 June, the airport says, with SAR operations beginning a month later. However, it is unclear whether S-92s or AW139s will initially be flown from the site.

Questions have been asked about the suitability of Lydd’s location – given that it is some 70nm (130km) from Wattisham and even further south than Manston – but Bristow says it still “meets the requirements of the government’s vicinity modelling”. This requires that any incident in the UK can be responded to within 60 minutes from launch.

Bristow says that since bases in Inverness and Humberside went live on 1 April it has received and responded to 28 and eight taskings respectively.

Source: Flight International