American-owned company Bristow will operate 22 helicopters from ten bases around the UK

The government has today announced the complete privatisation of the country’s search and rescue service with the signing of a £1.6 billion contract with Aberdeen-based Bristow Helicopters.

The company, owned by Texan company Bristow Group, will start to take over the service in 2015, and will be fully operational from ten bases across the UK by 2017. The contract will run until 2026.

Announcing the deal, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “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.

“With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first-class service with state-of-the-art helicopters.”

When fully operational, Bristow will operate 22 helicopters. Ten Sikorsky S-92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.

Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee-on-the-Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports.

According to the Department for Transport, the helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK within one hour of take off than is currently possible, and 85% of high and very-high risk areas will be reachable within half an hour, compared to 70% currently.

McLoughlin also said the new contract will see the creation of up to 350 new jobs.

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