The British Government has selected a consortium that includes CHC as the preferred bidder for a 25-year, search-and-rescue helicopter (SAR-H) contract that could be worth as much as $10 billion. CHC, based in Vancouver, B.C., is the world’s largest commercial provider of offshore helicopter services with a fleet of more than 270 aircraft operating in 30 countries.
Other members of the “Soteria Consortium” include avionics supplier Thales, helicopter maker Sikorsky and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Soteria was formed to take part in the competitive process led by the Ministry of Defence (MoD)/Department for Transport (DfT) and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to create a single helicopter SAR entity in the UK. Details of the final contract remain to be negotiated, but a CHC spokesman said he expects the deal to be completed in two to three months.
The impetus behind the SAR-H plan is the need to replace the 30 search-and-rescue Sea Kings operated by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy from the eight non-MCA bases during the next 10 years. Their replacements must be able to launch within 15 minutes by day or 45 minutes at night and have the speed to reach all high-risk and most medium-risk areas within one hour.
Under a contract beginning in 2012, CHC would operate Sikor-sky S-92As exclusively from as many as 12 bases in the UK, Scotland and Wales, providing support, facilities and crew for all helicopter operations. While the exact number of helicopters is yet to be determined, each base would have one to three helicopters, and those bases designated as training stations could have two to three each, the CHC spokesman said. Line maintenance would be available at each base and more extensive maintenance would be handled by Heli-One.
CHC operates from four of the bases already under existing contracts and is flying four S-92s from two of them in the North Atlantic and the North Sea, at bases at Sumburgh in the Shetland Isles and Stornoway in the Western Isles. It also operates three AgustaWestland AW139s to the south coast bases of Lee on Solent and Portland. As part of the SAR-H program, CHC will completely transition UK SAR to a Sikorsky S-92 fleet. Last year, S-92s operating in the UK performed nearly 750 SAR missions under contract to the MoD and MCA.
The MoD and MCA together currently provide a 24-hour military and civil helicopter
SAR service for the UK. The SAR region encompasses the 12 bases spread from Culdrose in the south of England to Sumburgh in Northern Scotland. The SAR helicopter service is currently provided by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and the civilian helicopter service under contract to the MCA. The Soteria contract will replace that arrangement. The MoD and MCA will continue to manage the service jointly. Bristow previously held the MCA contract, operating S-61Ns.