The Soteria consortium - which had been in line to run the UK's search and rescue helicopter service from 2012 - has expressed its disappointment at the UK government's cancellation of the privatisation following "irregularities" with the bidding process.

Soteria, which comprises CHC Helicopter, Thales and Sikorsky, was named as the preferred bidder a year ago to run the UK's SAR-H service. It was planning to operate a fleet of S-92 heavy lift helicopters for the contract, worth £6 billion, over 25 years.

However, in December it admitted it had access to commercially sensitive information, said the UK secretary of state for transport Philip Hammond in a statement issued today. "The irregularities included access by one of the consortium members, CHC Helicopter, to commercially sensitive information regarding the joint MoD/DfT project team's evaluations of industry bids and evidence that a former member of that project team had assisted the consortium in its bid preparation, contrary to explicit assurances given to the project team," the statement said. This is now the subject of an MoD police investigation, added Hammond.

Sikorsky S-92 search and rescue helicopter
 © Sikorsky
Soteria, which comprises CHC Helicopter, Thales and Sikorsky was planning to operate a fleet of S-92 heavy lift helicopters for the contract

Since December, Hammond continued: "My department and the MoD have been working with Soteria to better understand the situation and its implications for the procurement process."

For its part, Soteria says it is "disappointed to learn that the UK government has announced the cancellation of the SAR-H programme" and is confident that it was "designated as the preferred bidder for the SAR-H programme as a result of the value, expertise, dedication, excellence and exceptional technical solution that Soteria can provide in leading search-and-rescue efforts across the UK".

The government is now considering "the potential procurement options to meet future requirements for search and rescue helicopters in the United Kingdom, including options to maintain continuity of search and rescue helicopter cover until new, longer-term arrangements can be put in place".

Source: Flight International