Second generation UK search and rescue aviation programme (UKSAR2G)

These days the sight of a red and white helicopter in the skies above Britain is a familiar sight to many visitors to our coasts and mountain regions.

For some, it has been the moment when they’ve felt the kind of hope that only the realisation of an imminent rescue can bring.

Since 2015, the helicopters operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd on behalf of Her Majesty’s Coastguard have rescued more than 4,500 people from the sea, from coastland and the hills and mountains of the United Kingdom.

The helicopters operate from ten bases – Caernarfon, Humberside, Inverness, Lee-on-Solent, Lydd, Newquay, Prestwick, St Athan, Sumburgh and Stornoway and the work they’ve done in support of search and rescue immeasurable in its value.

Now the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of which HM Coastguard is the search and rescue arm, is looking to how to build on that and the other success of its aviation arm, the fixed-wing aeroplane based at Doncaster, which has also proved its weight in gold in search and rescue as well as counter-pollution work.

"We’re proud of everything the service has achieved to date," says Damien Oliver who is Commercial and Programmes Director at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

"We’re immensely proud of our search and rescue helicopter service and – more importantly – the crews that fly them, the engineers who maintain them and the support staff who all work around the clock to save lives. Our fixed-wing planes are relatively new to search and rescue and we see an expanded role for fixed-wing aircraft to help us find people in the future, even more quickly than we can today.

"Now is the time for us to build on that success and create something even better."

The HM Coastguard fixed-wing aircraft is based out of Doncaster.
The UK Search and Rescue Second Generation programme – known as UKSAR2G – will replace all the aviation services currently under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. That includes the search and rescue helicopters operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd and also the fixed-wing aircraft operated by 2Excel.

It’s a bold move but one which Damien says is an inevitable progression.

"When you’ve been at the forefront of innovation in search and rescue as I believe the MCA has, it makes sense to keep improving on how you deliver search and rescue,’ he said. ‘We’ve seen how developing technology can help us in our frontline emergency response. We’re confident that technology has the capability to help us find people even more quickly in the future."

Will drones feature as part of that? Definitely, says Damien. "We certainly see a role for unmanned aircraft in our future and we are working with the relevant authorities to create the rules under which that can happen," he added.

HM Coastguard works very closely with the other emergency services – police, fire and ambulance, as well as mountain rescue teams. While half of all callouts have come through directly from HM Coastguard, the other half of the demand for the aviation services come from the other emergency services. Damien says it’s important to build on those relationships.

"All of us in the emergency services have learned a lot about how to improve our collaboration. The more we work together, learn about how the others operate and what they can do, the more we can improve our frontline response in an emergency. The emergency services often talk about the Golden Hour – that period of time following serious injury, where every second counts. We make it count now but every second we can take off in terms of our joint response can improve a person’s chance of survival. Team work matters."

The tender will be formally launched at the beginning of next year. Despite the current challenge of dealing with Coronavirus (COVID-19), Damien says the process is neither stopping nor even slowing down.

"It’s not the time we would have chosen to launch this process," he said. ‘But we’re determined to keep to the timetable – we're engaging with industry through virtual means and having the conversations that we need to have through that medium."

"If we’re to keep delivering the kind of aviation services of the standard we demand of ourselves, if we are to make this happen, if even more lives are to be saved in the future, then there is no time to waste."

For more information on the UKSAR2G programme go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/second-generation-uk-search-and-rescue-aviation-programme-uksar2g

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