Search and rescue to be privatised

WATTISHAM'S search and rescue helicopters operated by the RAF are set to be privatised, the government announced today.Private companies are to be invited to operate the UK's search and rescue (SAR) helicopter services.

WATTISHAM'S search and rescue helicopters operated by the RAF are set to be privatised, the government announced today.

Private companies are to be invited to operate the UK's search and rescue (SAR) helicopter services.

The deal, under the Government's Private Finance Initiative, could see civilian aircrew operating alongside military ones at SAR bases like that at Wattisham.

There are currently "no plans" to close any of the 12 existing SAR bases, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

The contract will run from 2012 and could last for 25-30 years and be worth as much as £1billion. SAR services would continue to be managed jointly by the MoD and the MCA.

The part-privatisation was announced today by Minister for Defence Procurement Lord Drayson and Shipping Minister Stephen Ladyman.

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Currently, the MCA runs four SAR bases, the RAF runs six and the Royal Navy operates two.

MCA chief executive John Astbury said: "We have no proposals at this stage to close any bases.”

He added that the MCA's own new 2007-2012 contract would provide helicopters that were 50 per cent faster and that new helicopters for the entire operation would "help save more lives'.

The government hopes that a high proportion of military aircrew would be retained alongside civilian aircrew trained to the same high standards.

Before today's announcement some MPs had expressed worries that some bases might shut and that some SAR crews could be replaced.

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