This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
LONDON -- Helicopter operators vying for the upcoming U.K. long-term search-and-rescue helicopter contracts will hand in their final bids at the end of this week.
Bond Offshore Helicopters, Bristow Group and CHC will submit their final bids for the 10-12-year contracts -- each of which covers SAR services in a different region -- to the U.K. Department for Transport on Dec. 14. The department is due to make a decision on the contracts next March.
The introduction of the new SAR-H or "Long SAR" contracts will bring an end to the involvement of the U.K. Ministry of Defense in the provision of SAR helicopters, allowing the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to focus their activity on front-line operations and enabling ministry officials to meet their announced intention to retire its fleet of Sea Kings by the end of 2016.
The helicopters had been due to be replaced through the SAR-H program, but the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project was abandoned in February 2011 after irregularities were found in the bidding process for the £6 billion ($9.6 billion) contract.
The new contracts, worth between £2-3 billion, will see SAR helicopters being provided by civilian helo operators flying a new generation of modern aircraft. Because of the competitive process under way, few details of what the three operators plan to offer are available. But they will probably be offering a mix of medium and heavy helicopters, including the Eurocopter EC225 and EC175; the Sikorsky S-92; and the AgustaWestland AW189 and AW139. Heavier helicopters are likely to be based in Northern Scotland, England and Wales, while smaller aircraft will be based in the south of England.
The three companies were shortlisted in July. Other firms that competed for the contracts included Belgian company Noordzee Helikopters Vlaanderen (NHV), while the Osprey Consortium of British International Helicopters, Babcock and Era Helicopters dropped out in May.
AgustaWestland has offered to build all SAR-equipped AW189s in the U.K. at its facilities in Yeovil should its aircraft be chosen. Meanwhile, Eurocopter said it would create a center of excellence for SAR helicopters at its U.K. base in Oxford should the EC175 be chosen.