Rescue Helicopters Staying On South Coast

Plans to keep search-and-rescue helicopter services going at four key centres including Hampshire and Dorset have been announced by the Government.

The existing Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) contract is set to expire at bases at Portland, Lee-on-Solent and at Shetland and the Isle of Lewis in Scotland.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond says that the Department for Transport will shortly run a competition to procure an interim service at the bases for a period of up to five years.

He added that this contract would be similar to the arrangements currently in place for the bases.

Today's move follows Mr Hammond's announcement in February this year that the Government was halting a £6 billion procurement programme for search-and-rescue helicopters because the preferred bidder had admitted it had access to commercially sensitive information.

Under the privatisation plans, preferred bidder Soteria would have provided US Sikorsky helicopters to fly search-and-rescue missions from 12 bases, including ones operated by the Royal Navy and the RAF.

The Sikorsky aircraft would replace the Sea King helicopters which the Ministry of Defence plans to withdraw from service in 2016.

Mr Hammond said today that the RAF and Navy operations would continue while consideration was given

"to the long-term provision of search-and-rescue helicopter capability''.

He said he would announce the Government's long-term intentions later in the year.