MORE than half a century of search and rescue at RNAS Culdrose in Helston is to come to an end as an American owned firm moves in to take over the service.The Department for Transport has signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide search and rescue helicopter services across the UK.
It marks the end of an era for the navy's Sea King helicopters which are being taken out of service in 2016 when 771 squadron hands over search and rescue to Bristow. RNAS Culdrose said the deal would not threaten military personnel who are being re-deployed to other areas. However, it was unable to say how many civilian staff would be affected.
The £1.6 billion contract means 22 Sikorsky S-92 helicopters will be based at ten locations around the UK, including Newquay airprort.The Government says the deal will speed up flying times to incidents by 20 per cent- from 23 to 19 minutes.
Major Dave Fielder at RNAS Culdrose added: "The majority of our 400 staff are military. We will still have 30,000 people in the navy, but some will be doing different jobs. In short we are going from search and rescue into other lines of work.
"We are in our 60th year of providing search and rescue here. Sea King has been likened to the Lancaster and Spitfire aircraft - it is the end of the Sea King era and a tear will be shed as it goes. We lost the Harrier a few years ago, but we have new exciting roles coming in."