A clearer picture of Ireland's plans to replace its ageing air corps rotorcraft fleet will emerge in the next few weeks, with a long-awaited tender for up to six light utility helicopters.

Ireland is expected to formally launch the process by publishing a requirement in the European Union's official journal.

The air corps is to end its dedicated search and rescue (SAR) role after 40 years of operations and will return a leased Sikorsky S-61.

At present Ireland operates a mixed fleet. In addition to the S-61, the air corps has seven Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette IIIs, four Eurocopter AS365F Dauphins and a single Aerospatiale AS342L Gazelle. As part of the tender process the corps is expected to be given a single aircraft type.

Missions to date include army and navy support, pilot training, inshore rescue and VIP transport.

The service is due to take delivery of the first of eight Pilatus PC-9M trainers in April, a move which will see the eventual phasing out of the six Aermacchi SF260WE trainers that the corps currently uses. The new aircraft will have a much higher operating ceiling.

The decision to axe the long-standing SAR role was made in December when defence minister Michael Smith announced closure plans for the SAR station at Sligo in north-west Ireland.

Source: Flight Daily News