The development of the AgustaWestland AW189 has been somewhat slower than expected, which means that operators will not receive their aircraft on the expected timescale. In some cases the aircraft will be at least a year behind schedule, and when a fleet of AW189s are involved, alternatives need to be sought.
And so it is with Bristow Helicopters and the UK Coastguard contract. The UK is moving from a situation with a minority of its SAR provision outsourced to the new model with all SAR helicopters being flown by a commercial operator. Bristow won the contract with a bid involving 10 Sikorsky S92s and 10 AgustaWestland AW189s, although to allow for maintenance cover, they will have a fleet of 11 of each aircraft type. Four S92s have been on contract at Sumburgh and Stornoway from spring 2013, and a further three have arrived in recent weeks with four more due.
Relatively, the AW189s are a long way behind – the first one is already at Norwich from the Italian production line, but the first of the rest are not due off the UK production line for a few weeks yet. With this timescale, and even bearing in mind that operations will commence progressively from 2015 and until it is fully operational by summer 2017, an alternate solution was needed. Bristow Helicopters confirmed to HeliHub.com that “two SAR AW139s have been produced as per [their] contingency plan in the event of any delays to the SAR AW189“. Other unofficial sources are quoting four AW139s rather than two.
The first AW139 for Bristow in UK Coastguard livery is already test flying in Italy, and is serial 31571.
Two S92s will be based at each of Stornoway, Sumburgh, Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports. Correspondingly there will be two AW189s at each of Lee on Solent, Prestwick, St Athan, Inverness and Manston.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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