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New SAR contract will bring heli base to Fort William

Tuesday 26th July 2022, 3:07pm

A new Government contract for search and rescue will mean a seasonal helicopter base opening up at Fort William, serving one of Scotland’s busiest areas for mountain rescue.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has signed a new contract which will see more innovation in search and rescue.

The £1.6 billion contract with UK company Bristow Helicopters Ltd follows an 18-month procurement process.

Under the contract, the UK Second-Generation Search and Rescue Aviation programme – known as UKSAR2G – has been awarded to Bristow Helicopters Ltd to deliver both rotary and fixed wing services for the next ten years.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd has provided the UK search and rescue helicopter service for the MCA since 2013.

The new contract will see the UK search and rescue region benefit from both innovation and advances in technology to save more lives, even more quickly. It will combine the existing two separate aviation contracts for both fixed wing aircraft and rotary aircraft. It will also include the use of uncrewed aircraft (drones).

As part of the new contract, Bristow Helicopters Ltd will continue to operate from their current ten helicopter bases and launch two new seasonal bases in Fort William and Carlisle, to serve areas around two of the busiest locations for summer tourism.

The current helicopter bases will continue to be operational 24 hours a day, while the Fort William and Carlisle bases will operate 12 hours a day from April to September.

The transition out from the current contracts will start 30 September 2024 and run through to 31 December 2026, to ensure a continuation of search and rescue aviation services across the whole of the UK. There will be three fixed-wing bases at Doncaster, Prestwick and Newquay.

Bristow will operate 18 Helicopters including existing Leonardo AW189s and Sikorsky S92As augmented with the introduction of Leonardo AW139 helicopters. It will also have six King Air fixed-wing planes, including the B350, B350ER and the B200; and one mobile deployable Schiebel S-100 drone system.

Drones became part of HM Coastguard’s aviation fleet in March 2022 and are currently deployed supporting search and rescue activity in the English Channel. Drones have the capability to transmit real-time data including live imagery from the scene to Coastguard operations rooms as well as other responders. As HM Coastguard celebrates its 200-year anniversary, innovations like this will help evolve search and rescue for the next decade and beyond.

A high degree of innovation has also been proposed by Bristow Helicopters Ltd in the form of a new state-of-the-art search and rescue helicopter simulation training facility at Solent Airport next to the Coastguard Training Facility which will house a synthetic rescue hoist and helicopter suspended over a large training pool. Other innovation includes the use of sustainable aviation fuels, reducing the carbon footprint of these services.

Calling for Mountain Rescue

The new contract makes no difference in how people should call for assistance if they are in trouble in the mountains.

The advice remains to call 999 and ask for Police and then Mountain Rescue.

Full details of how to seek assistance can be found here.