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Monday, March 1, 2010

Soteria Wins SAR-H Battle to Civilianize UK’s SAR Helicopter Force

By Andrew Drwiega


Made up of CHC, Thales, Sikorsky and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Soteria Consortium has chosen the S-92A to replace UK-operated Sea Kings. Sikorsky
The Soteria Consortium (comprising CHC, Thales, Sikorsky and the Royal Bank of Scotland) has won a bid to replace the UK’s predominantly military-run Search and Rescue helicopter force in 2012. The current SAR force is mainly comprised of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel and aircraft at eight bases, with a smaller contribution provided by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) at four bases.

Quentin Davies, the UK’s Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, made the long-awaited announcement on October 9. Dubbed the harmonized Search and Rescue Helicopter (SAR-H) service, the move is very significant in that it moves the responsibility of managing the UK’s search and rescue helicopter force from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Department for Transport (DfT) to a Private Finance Initiative (PFI)-based civilian organization.

“The Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport have been working on this for three years and we are now happy to accept the Soteria bid,” said Davies. The confirmed £6-billion (approximately $8.25-billion) contract has been awarded on the provision of a service based around 97 percent aircraft availability (Soteria’s website states that the four aircraft currently in service with the MCA have had an availability record in excess of 98 percent).

“This is a very good day for search and rescue in the UK. We are now planning to retire the Sea King after 30 years service,” he said. Paul Clark, the parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DfT, followed on saying: “This is good news for the Department of Transport, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and good for those who will need this service on land and sea. We can now bring this together under one single service.” However, the number of military pilots and crew within the force is expected to drop from the current level of around 240 to 66, making the majority of the personnel civilian.

In terms of value for money against the existing service, Davies said it depended on how fixed costs were allocated within the MoD and that it wasn’t possible to make a comparison over 25 years.

Davies said of the decision to move to a PFI based service: “This wasn’t driven by a cost-saving agenda. It is the provision of a new and better service based on availability.” Davies stated that he was confident that the new arrangement would provide good value.

Now that the pre-selection of a bidder is complete, Davies said that full contract negotiations could begin, with the aim of finalizing the award later in 2010. The helicopter chosen by the Soteria Consortium to replace the Sea Kings is the Sikorsky S-92A. “The S-92 has been in operation in Northern Scotland [Shetland and Isle of Lewis] for three years and the crews are impressed with the capability of the helicopter,” said Clark.

The S-92s are said to be 30 percent faster than the Sea Kings and will be equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and integrated de-icing equipment (rotor ice protection system or RIPS). The MCA operation will begin the transition first in 2012 with a completion date set for 2016. (From March 2010 Rotorcraft Report)

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