The Sikorsky S-92 and Agusta AB139 will be deployed on search-and-rescue (SAR) duties around the UK between next year and 2012. In a surprise announcement early last month, Britain’s Coast Guard revealed that challenger CHC Scotia beat incumbent Bristow Helicopters to the $86 million contract and will run SAR operations at four bases on the south coast of England and to the north of Scotland. Three AB139s will supplement four leased S-92s.
Before the announcement, the S-92 had not won a SAR competition and the AB139 had not even been seriously marketed as a maritime SAR helicopter. Nevertheless, CHC Scotia project manager Steve Duffy told AIN that both helicopters fit the profile.
“The S-92 has proved itself through challenging conditions over the North Sea and off Canada, while the AB139 has all the performance we need, and more, for the SAR mission. I flew in one with 12 passengers at 2,000 feet; the pilot pulled back an engine and we then climbed vertically. It hovers slightly nose-up but there are no center of gravity issues, and I believe it represents a quantum leap in SAR capability,” he said.
A four-axis autopilot for the AB139 is due to be EASA-certified this year, and Duffy expects the SAR module to be ready for flight trials as well. A FLIR and hoist will also need to be selected.
“We proposed the smaller helicopter to cover the southern region because the typical mission along the coastline (featuring several beach resorts) involves rescuing only one or two people, often quite close inshore. Two will maintain 24-hour availability from one base while the third will be on standby for 12 hours a day at another. It is off Scotland, where you find the oil fields and ocean fishing areas, that you need the extra range and capacity. Two S-92s will be based at each of those two bases.”
Duffy confirmed that CHC would be interested in talking to Bristow crews who might want to join his company.
Bristow Helicopters held the UK Coast Guard’s SAR contract for more than 20 years, using a fleet of S-61Ns. The decision must be especially galling for the company since an SAR harmonization program, which will almost certainly involve civil operators taking over responsibility (from the military) for more operations around the coast, is due to take effect in 2012. Duffy expects the Coast Guard will release more information about this program “early this year.”