Chivenor helicopter hours to be cut by half

SEARCH and rescue operations from RMB Chivenor are to be cut back to just 12 hours. North Devon MP Nick Harvey and Lib Dem defence spokesman warned the Government was putting lives at risk by cancelling night time rescue missions from Chivenor. In a lette

SEARCH and rescue operations from RMB Chivenor are to be cut back to just 12 hours.

North Devon MP Nick Harvey and Lib Dem defence spokesman warned the Government was putting lives at risk by cancelling night time rescue missions from Chivenor in 2012, when it intends to privatise the service.

In a letter to Mr Harvey, Quentin Davies MP, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, said historically the number of incidents fell after dark, meaning cover could be provided by just nine of the country's 12 SAR bases.

The news comes as the Government continues to push ahead with plans to privatise the UK's search and rescue service from 2012, with two bidders now in the frame.

Mr Harvey said making cuts in the service before issuing the new contract was particularly unhelpful, especially since the exact terms were still being negotiated.

"But my key concerns remain public safety and ensuring the skills of our armed forces pilots," he said.

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"Our night time cover will have to come from Culdrose in Cornwall which could result in life threatening delays.

"Beyond the vital public service provided by the MoD's SAR flights, they also provide invaluable training experience for service crews practicing extraction and insertion operations.

"Following my discussions with the minister and his recent statement it remains unclear whether the privatised service will be crewed by RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard personnel, despite MoD proposals the contractor's helicopters bear their insignia."

For more in this breaking story see Wednesday's North Devon Gazette.

The cuts also apply to RAF Boulmer in Northumberland, while the base at Portland is already on daylight running only.

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