The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced its plans for the future of search and rescue (SAR) provision in the UK, and confirmed that the Ministry of Defence will stop delivering services following the retirement of its current Westland Sea Kings in early 2016.
Announcing the plans in a statement on 28 November, secretary of state for transport Justine Greening said a contract should be signed in early 2013 for "a search and rescue capability provided by civilian crews".
The decision to end the military delivery of SAR cover from several bases around the UK has been made with the support of defence secretary Philip Hammond, she said, and will enable the armed forces "to focus activity on their front line operations".
© Rex Features
RAF operations with the Sea King HAR3/3A fleet will come to an end in 2016
The UK government cancelled its proposed SAR-H private finance initiative deal with the Soteria consortium last February, leading to a review of its plans to deliver Sikorsky S-92 aircraft for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
"Royal Navy and Royal Air Force crews have shown great dedication and professionalism in delivering an exemplary search and rescue service for many years," Greening said.
"We are confident that a fully civilian service will be able to maintain the same standards in the future."
The DfT will launch a competition via the European Union, with the aim to establish a UK-wide service with an initial contract duration of about 10 years. Bidders will be invited to offer "a mixed fleet of modern helicopters", Greening said.
She added that the proposed contract award date "will ensure that the Ministry of Defence is able to meet its previously announced intention to withdraw from service and retire its fleet of Sea King helicopters by March 2016". Flightglobal's HeliCAS database lists the RAF as having an active fleet of 22 Sea King HAR3/3As and the RN 11 Sea King HU5s dedicated to performing SAR missions.
The planned replacement service will be delivered from 10 full-time bases around the UK, with Greening also announcing plans to cease such activities at RAF Boulmer, Northumberland in 2015 and from Portland, Dorset, from 2017 . Despite this reduction in infrastructure, the DfT said it expects the selected contractor to "provide at least the same level of service as at present".