All the Sea King rescue helicopters are to be withdrawn from service by early 2016, and search and rescue operations will end at RAF Boulmer in 2015 and at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency base at Portland when the interim arrangements expire.
Civilian organisations throughout the European Union can bid for the 10 year contract which is expected to be awarded in early 2013 to give the winner sufficient time to have the new arrangement in place to cover all the UK by 2016.
The Royal Navy presently operates two search and rescue helicopter bases, the RAF has six, and the MCA has four. The new civilian service will operate from 10 bases. The Department for Transport said: “Modern helicopters operating from 10 full-time bases can not only continue to meet all current service requirements but also provide faster flying times to a large part of the UK Search and Rescue region, as well as providing a more reliable service.”
The Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, said: “This new arrangement will ensure that the Ministry of Defence is able to meet its intention to retire its fleet of Sea King helicopters by March, 2016. “The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will continue to provide search and rescue coverage until their replacement is in place. Bidders for the future service will be able to put forward options which will make use of a mixed fleet of modern helicopters based on the capabilities required at each of the bases, such as range, carrying capacity and endurance.
Last February, the government cancelled the SAR-H Private Finance Initiative plan to privatise the service, brought in by the Labour Government.