Bristow Helicopters have now ferried both of their Sikorsky S61s back to the UK at the end of their SAR contract in the Netherlands. Earlier this year we reported that Belgian operator NHV had won the North Sea offshore SAR contract from Bristow and will operatetwo AS365N Dauphin helicopters from Den Helder Airport.
Bristow ferried one S61 – registered G-BIMU – across the North Sea to Norwich on 16th January while the second G-BPWB arrived there yesterday, 6th February. Both are now stored at Norwich Airport pending a decision on their future. NHV’s contract is initially for just six months, so there must be some hope on Bristow’s part that things do not work out with the smaller aircraft and they might be called back. That said, when NOGEPA (the Dutch Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Association) announced they had chosen NHV, it was based on “a combination of financial, health and safety and operational performance considerations”.
In practical terms it is likely to mean the end of the SAR role for the S61 with Bristow. The UK Coastguard moved over to newer technology aircraft when CHC won the contract in July 2007 with Sikorsky S92s and AgustaWestland AW139s. The Irish Coastguard – operated by CHC – have also recently moved away from SAR S61s in favour of S92s, and one of these has been sold to the US.
The commercial future of the S61 now focuses on firefighting, or being put into the S61T remanufacturing program. The Bristow pair have over 27,000 and 18,000 hours on their airframes according to UK CAA data – relatively low when you consider at least two S61s in the UK reached 43,000 hours each.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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