Craig Hoyle / London

The UK Defence Procurement Agency will this month seek requests to participate from firms interested in supplying the UK Ministry of Defence and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) with a new fleet of search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters from 2012.

The request, to be published in the EU Official Journal this month, will seek expressions of interest from bidders capable of delivering a private finance initiative service to potentially run until 2042.

New aircraft are required to replace the UK’s current military SAR fleet of 25 Royal Air Force Westland Sea King HAR3/3As and six Royal Navy Sea King HU5s, plus an interim package of MCA aircraft that will enter service in July 2007. CHC will provide four leased Sikorsky S-92s and three AgustaWestland AW139s to replace the agency’s seven Sikorsky S-61Ns under a five-year deal worth £100 million ($188 million).

Fleet and basing options will be considered during a future phase of competitive dialogue, but the MoD intends to continue preparing crews for expeditionary combat SAR requirements by providing personnel to the service, says Col Jon Brittain, deputy director equipment capability for air and littoral manoeuvre. The contest will also be balanced against the MoD’s wider future battlefield helicopter requirements, he says.

MCA chief executive John Astbury says the selection process will also consider the UK’s growing requirement for the SAR fleet to support “civil resilience” services, such as flood relief. From earlier this year, SAR helicopters have also been required to support the UK Civil Contingencies Act by deploying firefighters or medical personnel on to maritime vessels.

EADS says it will contest the SAR requirement with Eurocopter’s EC225 and AS365N3 designs, possibly under a partnership agreement with Bristow Helicopters.

Source: Flight International