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UK SAR Helo Program Down to Two Bidders

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This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

LONDON -- Bond Offshore Helicopters and Bristow are now the only bidders left in the running for the U.K.'s search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter tender.

Incumbent CHC Scotia, which currently provides seven helicopters under contract for the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), was told in mid-December by the Department for Transport (DfT) that it would not be asked to submit final tenders for the decade-long, £2-3 billion ($3.26-$4.9 billion) SAR contract.

In an email to CHC Scotia staff, believed to have been sent just before Christmas and seen by Aviation Week, Peter Bartolotta, chief operating officer and president of the company's Helicopter Services unit, says: "CHC won't be asked to submit final tenders for this contract. That's disappointing news. While we never take contracts for granted, we go into the tender process intending to win every one that we choose to bid on."

In the email, Bartolotta also reveals that one of the other bidders has tendered a bid some 20% lower than that of CHC's, adding: "We don't have insight to the financial or other motivations of competitors. But we know that the economics at a price 20 percent lower than our interim bid simply aren't right for CHC."

A spokeswoman for the helicopter operator confirmed that the letter was sent out to staff and that CHC is no longer proceeding with the bid.

CHC's work with the Maritime and Coastguard agency has been generally hailed as a success. The company took over the MCA SAR contract in 2008 from Bristow, successfully introducing the AW139 on the south coast and the Sikorsky S-92 in Scotland.

The company then won a similar contract in the Republic of Ireland. But the company's involvement in the Soteria consortium -- together with Thales and Royal Bank of Scotland -- to bid for the SAR-H Private Finance Initiative program was highly controversial and the deal collapsed because of alleged improper conduct. An investigation into the SAR-H program is still being conducted by the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

CHC's contract in Northern Scotland will end this July when Bristow takes over SAR duties, also using the S-92 under an interim contract due to last four years. CHC will continue to operate AW139s on SAR duties along the south coast. Both contracts will be subsumed when the long-term SAR contract begin operation in 2016. A decision from the DfT on the winner of the contract is expected in March.

Credit: AgustaWestland

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