Once a fully operational RAF Station, Wattisham is now only home to a search and rescue helicopter unit, ‘B’ Flight of No 22 Squadron, equipped with 2 Sea king HAR3A helicopters. The final bell is now being prepared for this operation, as it has been announced the Sea Kings will cease operations on 1st July. Operations continue with the Army Air Corps (who share the base) with Apache and Lynx helicopters. Other RAF SAR bases will gradually follow as the new outsourced fleet come on line.
This will be the first military SAR unit to close to make way for new operational bases to open as part of the UK’s national Search and Rescue contract, which was won by Bristow Helicopters in 2013. In a phased approach from 1st April through to 2017, UK SAR coverage will morph from its current mix of military and civilian operations to a wholly civil-supplied contract with ten bases at Caernarfon, Humberside, Inverness, Lee-on-Solent, Manston, Newquay, Prestwick, St Athan, Stornoway and Sumburgh.
At around the same time, Bristow announced that they have completed the construction work for their new hangars at Humberside and Inverness and these bases will open on 1st April. Humberside is scheduled to be an S92 base, and there are plenty of these available – of the 11 ordered, nine are now in the UK with the most recent two delivered via Southampton Docks to Aberdeen on Monday 12th January. The situation at Inverness is less clear, as this will be an AW189 base, but the delivery of this new type is behind schedule (see HeliHub.com story), so it is possible that it will start with S92s and move over to AW189s in due course. Bristow have been using Inverness as a key location in getting S92 SAR pilots up to speed, so it makes sense to continue with that type at that base the time being.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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