UK Helicopter SAR performance reviewed
A review of the UK search-andrescue helicopter (UKSARH) service, commissioned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and carried out by Qinetiq, concludes that it has successfully transitioned from the former military and Coastguard cover to services provided by Her Majesty’s Coastguard and operated by Bristow Helicopters, ‘but could still implement actions to ensure the service’s continued performance’. Sikorsky S-92s and Leonardo AW189S operating from ten bases throughout the UK have replaced the UKSARH service’s ageing fleet of Sea Kings and Agustawestland AW139S.
‘The transition to the current UKSARH program involved numerous changes in the way the service was provided, including changes to operations, basing, aircraft, personnel, governance, legislation and risk management,’ says the report. ‘Numerous anticipated benefits of the service have been met, or are on track to be met… Realisation of all ten benefits identified in the UKSARH Benefits Realisation Plan is in progress, with five already being achieved in full, [and] the primary benefit of saving lives was assessed as being achieved in full.’
The report identifies a number of actions that could be implemented to ensure the availability, performance and safety of the service in future. It recommends further exploration of the UKSARH’S casualty transfer process, as ‘there are occasions where UKSARH waits on the ground for a road ambulance to arrive, and thus is not available for other tasks’. It also addresses aircrew training and availability, noting that ‘The pool of trained ex-military aircrew recruited when the service transitioned from military SAR is significantly reduced [and] it would be prudent to assess the “suitably qualified and experienced person” risks, given the unusual nature of SARH flying, and ensure operators are contractually obliged to undertake appropriate manpower planning.’
Equipment-wise, the PIR suggests that SAR helicopters’ capabilities ‘could be further exploited to enhance its role, including the use of data from forward-looking infrared sensors to provide information on casualties, terrain and hazards’.