The HM Coastguard search and rescue (SAR) helicopter base in Lee-On-Solent started flying the new Leonardo AW189 helicopter for SAR operations.
The new £20 million AW189 helicopters are painted in red and white HM Coastguard colors and operated by Bristow Helicopters Limited on behalf of HM Coastguard. The Coastguard base at Lee-on-Solent is the first in the UK to fly this new model of helicopter for SAR missions.
The transition to Bristow from the current operator at Lee-on-Solent marks the penultimate step in a staged transition from a mix of 12 military and civilian bases to ten Coastguard SAR helicopter bases in the UK.
Damien Oliver, Assistant Director for Aviation at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said:
“We are excited to add these new AW189 helicopters to our Coastguard helicopter fleet. These are some of the most technologically advanced helicopters providing lifesaving services in the world today. The crews that will fly the new helicopters, and the engineers that maintain them, will continue to demonstrate the utmost professionalism and dedication to the work of saving lives here in the south of England.”
Russell Torbet, director of UK SAR at Bristow Helicopters, said: “We are very pleased that Bristow is returning to Lee-On-Solent which we previously operated on behalf of the Coastguard from 1988 until 2007. Our transition team has been at Lee-On-Solent since January continuing their training on the AW189 and preparing for this handover. They are ready to go.
“The existing Lee-On-Solent crews will commence induction and training with Bristow from the start of April to transition onto the AW189 aircraft type over the coming months. This has been a lot of work for everyone involved and we’re looking forward to introducing the AW189 and continuing this life-saving service in the region.”
The Leonardo AW189 is a larger, more advanced and capable aircraft than the AW139 version currently in operation at Lee-On-Solent. It is the latest generation helicopter in its category and is designed to meet long-range, high-endurance requirements for search and rescue missions in the most demanding operational and environmental conditions. Over the next 18 months, the AW189 helicopter will be introduced at Coastguard SAR helicopter bases at Prestwick, St Athan, Lydd and Inverness, as part of the £1.9 billion investment by the UK Government in this vital frontline emergency service that rescues or assists around 2,000 people a year.
In 2013, Bristow won the UK Government national contract to deliver SAR operations on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Seven of 10 strategically located bases took over the helicopter civilian SAR responsibility from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy in a phased approach throughout 2015 and 2016. The Coastguard bases at Lee-On-Solent, Stornoway and Sumburgh are set to become part of the UK contract by July 2017.