Rescue choppers to go civilian by 2016

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RAF rescue helicopters at Wattisham Airfield will be replaced with civilian machines by March 2016.

The Ministry of Defence and Department for Transport announced on Monday that the DfT has begun the procurement exercise to find a civilian supplier for UK search and rescue (SAR) services currently provided by the RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard.

The plan is to have a new service, with the latest helicopters, ready to take over from the existing service before its aging Sea King helicopters are retired in 2016. Sea Kings entered service alongside the shorter range Wessex in 1977, though some are the updated mark 3A ,which replaced the SAR Wessex in 1992.

Wattisham’s yellow Sea Kings make up B-Flight of the RAF’s 22 Squadron, which was originally formed as part of the Royal Naval Air Service in 1915 and became an SAR squadron in 1955. The squadron also has a flight at Chivenor and its headquarters at RAF Valley, where its best known pilot Prince William is based. It was a B-Flight Sea King that flew up The Mall after his wedding, trailing a union flag.

Announcing the change, Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening said: “The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force crews have shown great dedication and professionalism in delivering an exemplary search and rescue service for many years, and we owe them all great thanks for this.”