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'Greek goddess combination' aims to be a force as SAR welcomes introduction of new technology
A corporate alliance, named after a Greek goddess, is planning to take U.K. SAR services into a new era with a combination of skills that could be used to win further business in Europe.

A corporate alliance, named after a Greek goddess, is planning to take U.K. SAR services into a new era with a combination of skills that could be used to win further business in Europe. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has joined the CHC Helicopter Corporation and Thales UK team bidding for the planned new U.K. SAR service as an equity partner. The alliance plans to become a joint venture called Soteria after the Greek goddess of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm, on contract signing.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence and the department for transport last year formally launched a joint SAR-Helicopter (SAR-H) project designed to procure a harmonised service for the U.K. The Soteria team is one of three bidders who have been selected to participate in a process where solutions will be assessed jointly by the MoD and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The 'Soteria alliance' faces competition from the VT Group, Lockheed Martin & British International and from Serco, Bristow Helicopters & FB Heliservices. But CHC, which operates more than 250 aircraft in 35 countries, has already been awarded the contract to provide an interim SAR capability to run from June 2007 through to June 2012. It is now adding debt financing, risk management and investor service skills to the international electronics and systems capability provided by Thales.

Keith Mullett, European md of CHC, says: "The launch of the alliance is key to focusing Soteria in delivering proposals whose core theme is the safety and protection from harm of the public. CHC operates an established and growing portfolio of SAR services in the U.K., in Europe and around the world. We are bringing all of that experience, and our commitment to introducing new technology, as we seek to take a harmonised UK SAR service into a new era."

The U.K. SAR helicopter capability is currently provided by the MCA, an agency of the DfT, through service contracts at four bases and by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy using Sea King helicopters at eight MoD bases. The MCA and MoD together provide a 24-hour military and civil SAR service for the UK SAR working Region from these 12 bases around the UK.

The SAR-H project seeks to replace the MCA and MoD capabilities in the next decade when the MoD Sea Kings come to the end of their useful lives and the current MCA service contract is due for renewal. The MCA SAR service has been contracted out using civilian pilots and crews at their four bases for approximately 20 years and has been re-competed at regular intervals.

The first of three brand-new AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters, configured entirely for SAR, have been delivered to the MCA's new hangar at the Lee-On-The-Solent airfield. The helicopters, which will be used primarily on the south coast, are being provided under a service contract to the MCA by CHC Helicopters. The service will provide 24-hour coverage at Sumburgh, Stornoway and Lee-on-Solent, and will operate on a 12 hour day-time basis at Portland, in line with current cover. Two AW139s will be based at Lee on the Solent and one at Portland. Peter Cardy, ceo, MCA says: "These new aircraft will be able to fly more quickly, and will be able to fly farther to people in distress at sea than those currently in use. They have been specifically kitted with various items of advanced technical equipment, including an on board automatic identification system (AIS), specifically designed for the challenges of search and rescue in the 21st Century."

CHC's UK SAR contract manager Ian McLuskie says: "The introduction of the AW139s represents the latest key phase in our work with the MCA to introduce new technology to civilian helicopter search and rescue work in the UK." The change in emphasis in U.K. SAR comes as helicopter operators are introducing increasing sophisticated approaches to the service in Europe.

Sweden's Norrlandsflyg AB has taken delivery position agreements for eight S-76Ds, the next generation model of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. Norrlandsflyg is a leading SAR and EMS helicopter operator which currently operates a fleet of nine S-76 helicopters in Sweden for air ambulance and SAR duty. This spring, another two "factory fresh" S-76C++ helicopters will be added to the fleet.

Norrlandsflyg is under contract with the Swedish Maritime Administration's SAR division and performs all Swedish maritime SAR missions. Fredrik Skanselid, ceo, says: "Specially configured maritime Sikorsky S-76s are strategically placed at five bases, with crews on 15 minute, 24-7 response time," he says.

"The S-76 helicopter has a solid record of performance in this capacity, and we are looking forward to seeing what the next generation of this aircraft will bring. The S-76D performance will give us the ability to offer an enhanced and unparalleled service to our clients, be it in the SAR or HEMS role."

Skanselid says the S-76D offers more than a 1,000 lbs increase in useful load and extended range performance over the S-76C++ currently in the field. He also cited the all-composite, flaw-tolerant main rotor blades; the rotor ice protection system (RIPS) option; the advanced Thales avionics system and autopilot and dual speed rotor with active vibration control. Additional attractions, according to Skanselid, are a quiet tail rotor, additional fuel capacity, new electrical generation system, quiet gearbox and Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS).

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