The UK Ministry of Defence is seeking to acquire helicopters for operations in Northern Ireland. The machines would be military registered and operated by military crews, but would be civil-owned.

The MoD is seeking a 10-year contract, with the helicopters entering service before 2006. The winner will be expected to have eight aircraft available every day. Tasking will be 24h a day, all year round, with up to 10,500h flown a year. During "surge periods", up to 11 machines will be required.

The helicopters will be based at RAF Aldergrove, but the contractor will need to be able to operate them for 24-48h away from base. The armed forces have a series of forward operating bases at British Army bases and police stations across the province.

The helicopters will replace Westland Lynx AH7s, becoming responsible for troop movements, airlift including underslung loads, reconnaissance and surveillance, which requires the provision of sensors, communications and associated equipment. The machines must be twin-engined, have night vision goggle-compatible cockpits and be capable of being fitted with protection systems and other government furnished equipment.

Companies have until 25 January to express an interest in bidding. One group expected to do so is FBS, a Bristow/FR Aviation joint venture which operates the UK's Defence Helicopter Flying School.

Source: Flight International