Two new Coastguard search and rescue helicopters will be seen in the skies above North Devon after going into service yesterday (Monday).

The base at St Athan in South Wales has taken delivery of a pair of brand-new Leonardo AW189 helicopters, which replace two smaller Leonardo AW139 aircraft.

Each new £20million AW189, painted in red and white HM Coastguard colours, is operated by Bristow Helicopters Limited, on behalf of HM Coastguard.

The Leonardo AW189 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.

St Athan is one of seven purpose-built sites created since Bristow took responsibility for the SAR service, which locally had previously been based at RMB Chivenor and operated by the RAF.

It is the fourth base in the UK to fly this new model of helicopter for SAR missions, following Lydd and Lee-on-Solent on the south coast, and Prestwick in Scotland.

Damien Oliver, aviation programme director at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: “In common with the capability previously delivered to our teams at Prestwick, Lydd and Lee-on-Solent, these brand new AW189s can work in all weathers, and across the UK’s most challenging terrain.

“They represent a significant investment in new technology, which further underscores the importance with which the MCA views its lifesaving work.”

Olly Padbury, chief pilot at St Athan, added: “Bringing the new AW189s into service was the final milestone in our calendar – I know there has been keen interest in their arrival in the region, to support rescue missions at sea and on-land across the region.

“I flew the final AW139 mission and, at our daily duty handover, deputy chief pilot, Steve Whalley undertook a training sortie in the AW189, which was the perfect way to signal the change of aircraft.

“The aircraft provides us with a range of technologies and capabilities which support our work in bringing people home safely from a search and rescue operation. Through year-round training, using aircraft of this standard gives us the best chance of living up to the incredibly high standard the UK SAR service is renowned for.”

The St Athan base is operated by a team of 20, located at the Coastguard SAR base at St Athan Aerospace. Bristow began operating the UK’s SAR helicopter service on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in 2015, after winning the tender in 2013.