Well the Guardian has published a story saying that the government after waisting lots of money on the first botched attempt to tender for the Air/Sea rescue service in the Britian has decided not to continue with the current system and modernise the military helicopters and keep a system that has work fantastically and instead chosen to hand the contract to the private US firm Bristow.
I cannot help think that this is just a stupid idea, having worked alongside the RAF when on Llanberis Team, I have witnessed some of the finest flying in some of the most challenging conditions by Rescue 122 from RAF Valley. The governments argument seems to be that the Seaking is an ageing beast and rather than replace the RAF and RN fleet they have decided that privatisation was the way to go.
I have a good friend who train Prince William in Search and Rescue Flying at Valley and in conversations with him he raised a whole raft of potential problems. The most difficult is that at the moment there is no aviation law that allows low flying over land at night for civilian pilots. So the government will need to address this should the service be called to fly at night in the mountainous areas of the UK.
Similarly when on the team, the relationship we had with RAF Valley was strong and we would not only call on there helicopters but at times we would use there land based teams to supplement the volunteers. I don’t know whether the same mutual respect will extend to a private company who will after all be looking at their bottom line, where any additional flying costs money.
The present system is very effective and believe or not I have known seriously injured casualties make it to A&E in Bangor within the golden hour of an accident. All due to the hard work by the local rescue teams and the RAF. How a private entity will fit into this I don’t know, but I can’t see it being a step forward, instead it is more likely a step backward and possibly a thin edge of a wedge that may well lead to charging for rescues.
The only thing I can say is that the Seaking is getting tired, I remember going to get onto one and seeing red rain spouting from the winch. Which turn out to be hydraulic fluid, I have never seen a winchman run so fast in my life, followed by the pilots. It just seems ludicrous that they didn’t just replace the RAF and RN fleets, which one presumes they will have to if they expect them to head into war zones with them.
For me it is a sad day and one that may well lead to the unnecessary loss of life.