LONDON, March 26 (UPI) -- Britain's Department of Transport is enhancing airborne search-and-rescue operations nationwide through a contract to a private company.
Under the contract, Bristow Helicopters Ltd., an affiliate of a U.S. firm, will operate fleets of Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestland AW189s from 10 bases around the country, improving emergency response times and providing enhanced coverage for high-risk areas.
"Helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the U.K. search-and-rescue region within 1 hour of takeoff than is currently possible and based on historic incident data it is estimated that there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20 percent (from 23 to 19 minutes)," it said.
"Presently, approximately 70 percent of high- and very high-risk areas within the U.K. search-and-rescue region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 percent of the same area would be reached within this timeframe."
The government said the contract represents a major investment by the government in providing a search-and-rescue helicopter service.
The 10-year award is worth $2.43 billion. Its phase in period begins in April 2015 and continues until July 2017.
"Our search and rescue helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea," Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said.
"With 24 years of experience providing search-and-rescue helicopter services in the U.K., the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first class service with state-of-the-art helicopters."
Bristow Helicopters Ltd. is an affiliate of the Bristow Group Inc., which provides helicopter services for the offshore energy industry around the world. It also performs SAR services in Britain.
Bristow Group affiliates perform civilian search-and-rescue services in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Dutch Antilles, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia and Trinidad.
The British government gave Bristow Helicopters a gap SAR services contract last year. That award takes effect this July for the use of four helicopters from bases in Stornoway and Sumburgh in Scotland. It is expected to run for four years until transition to services under the new contract have transitioned.
"Bristow Helicopters has a proven reputation for exceptional U.K. search-and-rescue services, having performed such services over 36 years with world-class operations that included unmatched flight safety performance, extensive aircrew training, first-class maintenance facilities, supply-chain partners and project procurement and contract management," said Mike Imlach, Bristow Helicopters managing director.
Under the new contract, Bristow will operate 22 helicopters for civilian SAR. Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based at Stornoway and Sumburgh and at new sites at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports. Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, as well as at new bases at three other locations.
The AgustaWestland aircraft will be assembled at AgustaWestland's factory in Yeovil, which is shifting its focus from military aircraft to civilian helicopters.
"This award will employ 22 of the world's most technologically advanced and safest helicopters which will dramatically improve the capability to save lives and significantly reduce the U.K. government's costs for the next decade," said William E. Chiles, president and chief executive officer of the Bristow Group.
"It is planned that some of the military personnel currently involved in SAR in the U.K. will join Bristow Helicopters to work under this contract, and we look forward to welcoming them into the Bristow family," he said.
Bristow Helicopters said it expects its total capital requirement for the contract will be about $1 billion, much of which will be for the acquisition of new, SAR-equipped aircraft.