Private finance initiative aims to replace military and civilian search-and-rescue fleets under a single contract

A competition to select a service provider to operate the UK’s search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter force is to be launched next year.

The unique cross-department project will replace military helicopters from the RAF and Royal Navy, as well as chartered civilian helicopters operated on behalf of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) from 2012, according to Ministry of Defence sources.

A joint MoD and Department for Transport (DfT) integrated project team at the Defence Procurement Agency proposed the private finance initiative (PFI) solution last year. This year expressions of interest are being sought from industry before a full-blown competition is launched formally next year that could be worth up to £1 billion ($1.75 billion) over 25 years, say industry sources.

The new project aims to replace both the existing military and civilian SAR helicopter fleets and bring them under a single umbrella contract to reduce operating costs.

Plans for UK SAR harmonisation could see a private sector contractor provide between 30 and 40 helicopters to provide SAR coverage from up to a dozen sites around the UK coastline. Under the 25-year “power by the hour” contract, the UK government would pay for use of the helicopters, which would remain in civilian ownership and on the civil aircraft register.

These new helicopters would not be configured to take part in combat operations outside the UK. It is expected that international manufacturers, including AgustaWestland, EADS and Sikorsky, will team with helicopter leasing companies for the contest.

The DfT and the Treasury have been pushing for all peacetime SAR operations in the UK to be handed over to civilian operators to save money, but the RAF and Royal Navy successfully resisted the plans.


Source: Flight International