Team members CHC and Thales UK, plus equity partner RBS, are celebrating the Soteria consortium's victory in the UK's SAR-H search and rescue helicopter competition.

Offering the Sikorsky S-92, Soteria was today confirmed as preferred bidder for the SAR-H requirement, which will replace search and rescue assets for both the UK Ministry of Defence and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Around 24 aircraft are likely to be acquired under the deal.

 S-92 - MCA
© Maritime and Coastguard Agency

"Following finalisation of the contract, the MoD and the Department for Transport expect to be in a position to award the contract later this year," the MoD says. This is expected to result in a 25-year private finance initiative agreement worth around £6 billion ($9.3 billion).

The service is expected to come into phased use from 2012, with "a proportion of military aircrew working alongside civilian aircrew trained to the same high standards". The balance is expected to include 66 crew from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, representing 25% of the total manpower.

The maritime agency's four operating bases will be the first to receive the new aircraft, followed by eight military sites now equipped with Westland Sea Kings flown by the RAF and RN. The S-92 is 30% quicker than the aged type, the MoD says, and will be equipped with forward-looking infrared sensors and night vision goggle-compatible cockpits.

Several S-92s have been in agency use at its two Scottish bases since mid-2007 under a five-year interim SAR service with CHC, and had delivered an availability rate of over 98% by late last year.

"Soteria will work in partnership with the MoD and DfT, and other SAR and civil resilience stakeholders to ensure that the UK's history of providing a world-leading SAR service is assured and enhanced through the introduction of modern technology in the form of the Sikorsky S-92," says bid director David Rae.

The SAR-H fleet is to carry a new, harmonised colour scheme. "The single black and orange livery will maximise visibility, signal that this is an emergency service, include the RAF, RN and MCA insignia on all helicopters and maximise flexibility," the MoD says.

The selection comes as a blow to the members of the rival AirKnight consortium: British International Helicopters, Lockheed Martin and VT. The team had offered to deliver the SAR-H service using Eurocopter EC225s.

Source: Flight International