Bristow Prepares for UK SAR Contract Commencement

AS BRISTOW Helicopters continues its preparations towards starting up the UK SAR contract on behalf of the UK’S Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), it has already scored significant achievements at its existing bases in Northern Scotland.  Detailing its SAR milestones in a press release on January 13, Bristow said that, working under the Gap SAR contract with the MCA, both the Sumburgh and Stornoway bases completed a busy first year of service.  During that time, Bristow’s SAR crew based at Sumburgh Airport completed more than 150 missions, rescued more than 40 individuals and assisted more than 120 people.  The Bristow crew at Stornoway Airport completed more than 160 missions, rescuing more than 30 individuals and assisting an additional 100 people.

To deliver on the Gap SAR contract, Bristow deployed four new Sikorsky S-92 helicopters that feature the latest SAR technology, including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.  One of the aircraft based in Sumburgh was named Oscar Charlie in honor of a Sikorsky S-61N that served the northern islands for 23 years.  In November 2013, Bristow held a special event to celebrate 30 years of SAR operations at Sumburgh and to acknowledge the dedication and bravery of the helicopter teams who have helped to deliver it.  The unit was presented with the Coastguard Meritorious Award by the MCA.

As the April 2015 start date for the UK SAR contract nears, Bristow is in the process of expanding its SAR operations across the country. Bristow is on track to begin SAR operations at the first two UK SAR bases, Humberside and Inverness, on April 1, 2015.  The construction of these two bases is now complete and pre-operational activity began at both bases on January 5, 2015.  At the end of November 2014, Bristow took delivery of three S-92 aircraft and the first AW189 for the contract.  Staff recruitment is almost complete for all bases, while training and base preparations are well underway and running to schedule.  By summer of 2017, Bristow will deliver SAR services from ten strategically located bases around the 10,500 miles of UK coast, using a fleet of S-92 and AW189 helicopters.  The Sumburgh and Stornoway bases will transition into the UK-wide service network in 2017, and continue under that contract until 2026.

As the new bases open, the military helicopters, which currently carry out search and rescue, will finish their obligations.  Bristow’s plans have always taken into account the need to preserve operations at existing SAR bases, and Bristow has worked closely with the Ministry of Defence to mutually agree on release dates for military personnel who will join the UK SAR service.

A highlight of the UK SAR preparations was receiving the first S-92A SAR helicopter during a September ceremony at Sikorsky’s facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.  “We were very excited to receive the first aircraft from Sikorsky for our UK search and rescue fleet,” says Bristow President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Baliff.  “With nearly 70 S-92 helicopters already in our inventory, we have come to know and appreciate the aircraft’s safety and reliability.”  Throughout its history, Bristow has led the industry in introducing new aircraft types and technology for the civilian market.  The SAR equipment it developed has also become the industry standard, resulting in recognition with the Queen’s Award for Innovation for these technical advancements.

“We recognize that SAR helicopters are just one piece of a successful tasking,” says Bristow’s UK Search and Rescue Director Samantha Willenbacher.  “We are committed to working closely with both national and local agencies, such as mountain rescue teams, Coastguard, police, fire service and voluntary community groups, in the delivery of SAR services.”  As part of this commitment, Bristow SAR recently attended The Gathering,’ a mountain rescue conference in Aviemore, Scotland.  Mountain rescue teams (MRTs) from the UK and Ireland attended the conference and met with MCA and Bristow representatives.

Bristow SAR personnel provided a series of four, two-hour presentations and were on hand to answer questions at a booth co-hosted with the MCA.  Rescue and medical equipment was on display throughout the presentations, with topics addressed ranging from rescue and medical techniques to human factors and search management.

Bristow SAR representatives included Standards Manager Richard (Tricky) Dane, who said: “This was a very important event for us.  The Bristow team put in a sterling effort at ‘The Gathering’ and enjoyed some great interaction with the MRTs.  We handled many questions about airframes, downwash, techniques and medical issues and believe we are building strong relationships with many of the MRTs we will be working with.”

When Bristow was awarded the UK SAR contract in March 2013, the company says that it represented a huge endorsement of the company’s reputation for excellence in SAR.  “While Bristow began operations at Sumburgh on June 1, 2013, and at Stornoway on July 1, 2013, the company previously had provided 40 years of SAR services in the UK, including 24 years of operations under the MCA at Sumburgh and Stornoway from 1983 to 2007,” Willenbacher notes. “Everyone at Bristow understands the huge responsibility that comes with this contract,” she adds.  “We are committed to delivering a service that meets the required high expectations and to build on the heroic work conducted by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy over the past 70 years.  We will work in full partnership with the MCA to ensure a smooth transition process and the long-term continued delivery of a world-class SAR operation in the UK.”

Alan Warnes