Private contractor will run Chivenor search and rescue

A consortium which includes the Royal Bank of Scotland has been chosen to provide search and rescue cover at Chivenor from 2012. The Government announced yesterday (Tuesday) it had chosen the Soteria Consortium to begin providing all of the UK service, us

A consortium which includes the Royal Bank of Scotland has been chosen to provide search and rescue cover at Chivenor from 2012.

The Government announced yesterday (Tuesday) it had chosen the Soteria Consortium to begin providing all of the UK service, using a fleet of new Sikorsky S92 helicopters.

Soteria is made up of CHC, Thales, Sikorsky and the Royal Bank of Scotland, an institution bailed out by the tax payer and an irony not lost on opponents of the scheme.

The group will replace the aging Sea King aircraft over a three year period and it is thought the contract is worth �6 billion over 25 years.


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The controversial plan has met with fury in North Devon and the South West because it intends to reduce Chivenor operations for 24 to 12 hours, effectively ruling out night time rescues.

The current UK SAR service is provided by the RAF and Royal Navy, with a civilian helicopter service under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

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It will be replaced over the next decade through a single contract placed with Soteria that will retain a proportion of military aircrew working alongside civilian aircrew trained to the same high standards and managed jointly by the MOD and MCA.

The Ministry of Defence argues the new, faster Sikorsky helicopters will still be able to provide the same coverage from bases at Culdrose and in South Wales, but campaigners in North Devon fear lives will be lost if these plans go ahead.

"These new faster machines will still not be able to adequately cover what Chivenor already does," said Councillor Bob Thompson, who launched the Ilfracombe Town Council campaign to preserve Chivenor's hours.

"Culdrose and Chivenor between them do about 200 night time calls per year - that's an enormous number and a huge potential increase in flights for Culdrose to cope with alone."

North Devon MP Nick Harvey said he was sure the new helicopters would be very good, but added: "My biggest worry is there's going to be barely more than half of the current number and they can't be in two places at once.

"It's interesting the financial player on this is the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is Government owned - so they're lending the money to the bank and then borrowing it back form them to buy the helicopters!"

But making the announcement yesterday, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, said:

"I am delighted to announce the Soteria Consortium has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the Search and Rescue Helicopter (SAR-H) project.

"The new service, which will begin with a phased introduction which is anticipated to begin in 2012, will bring together the current provision into one highly effective and harmonised service under a single contract providing the British taxpayer with an excellent service for many years to come.

"The future service will benefit from modern, fast, reliable helicopters and will continue to operate from 12 bases in order to ensure that it provides a fully effective SAR service."

The final details of the contract - including the fine details of how it will all actually work - are expected to be hammered out between the Government and Soteria in the coming months, with the contract due to be awarded later in 2010.

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