Close co-operation between the voluntary, donation-funded, RNLI lifeboats, and the Government-funded RAF and FAA helicopter crews and the Coast Guard have saved many lives every year around the British Isles
Cash strapped Blair Brown Regime has been trying to privatize British helicopter SAR coverage, including cover in the Falklands Islands, to avoid having to fund 40 new helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings flown by RAF, FAA and MSA crews.
The British consortium, including Bristow and Agusta Westland, have withdrawn from bidding and stories are circulating that the two foreign bidders are considering withdrawal unless the value of the PFI contract is significantly increased.
The story also circulating is that Regime is attempting to blackmail the British consortium into re-entering the bidding by threatening that the companies making up the consortium will be blackballed from bidding for any other British Government contracts in the future unless they re-enter the bidding for this contentious PFI contract.
Scottish Prime Minister, unelected, “Bottler” Brown’s failed economic policies have driven Britain into recession and money for essential services is rapidly drying up
The core of the problem is that the Regime has run out of money as Britain heads deep into recession. As Scottish Prime Minister, unelected, “Bottler” Brown has admitted, Britain is leading the world towards Depression. At stake is the safety of all those in peril who depend on the heroic performances of British SAR helicopter crews.
The East Anglian Air Ambulance, typical of the voluntary air ambulance/SAR services provided in Britain by charitable Trusts – A 365 day-a-year life-saving service across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. The charity is independent of government and National Lottery funding and is entirely dependent on fund-raising and contributions. To keep its two air ambulances flying, and to provide the advanced medical equipment they carry, over £3 million per year has to be raised.
There is a further dimension. The Marine Safety Agency provides Coast Guard services and does not have to operate its own SAR crews. It has always relied heavily on the RNLI which is a voluntary organization funded by donations from the public. RNLI lifeboat crews are in daily action around the coasts of Britain and the Irish Republic, receiving no money from the British Government for their outstanding service. There is always the option of replacing MSA helicopters with voluntary SAR Trusts in an expansion of the existing and growing network of Air Ambulance services, working closely with the RNLI for over-water SAR coverage. The RNLI itself is also expanding its services to the public at no cost to the Government. RNLI hovercraft and lifeboats already assist police and other emergency services in the recovery of bodies and in searches for missing people on estuary and inland waters. In addition, the RNLI has formed teams specifically to go to areas of flooding inland to assist the rescue and evacuation of those trapped by floods.
The Blair Brown Regime has failed to take the opportunity to consider encouraging an expansion of voluntary services to provide SAR helicopters.
The Agusta Westland EH101 Merlin has replaced the aging Sea King in a range of FAA roles and is being supplied to the US as the new Marine One Presidential helicopter, replacing the Sea King for US Presidential helicopter transportation. A variant equipped for in-flight refueling and ground suppression would be a logical helicopter to replace the Sea King for British Military SAR and battlefield extraction duties.
Then there is the matter of the military provision of SAR helicopters. At present, the main coverage is provided by RAF and Fleet Air Arm crews flying military Sea King helicopters. Most of the 40 new helicopters would be required to replace military crews and Sea Kings. To privatize this coverage overlooks the fact that RAF and FAA helicopters are provided principally to enable these military services to provide SAR and battlefield extraction of downed aircrew. In peacetime they are available for civil SAR and this enables them to train and operate under extreme conditions performing valuable SAR services to sailors and others at risk. This primary mission has been neglected during the last ten years and resulted in the crews having to fly aging helicopters that are unable to provide state of the art military SAR.
The Boeing Chinook is an unsuitable helicopter for battlefield SAR/extraction, even when fitted with a winch, being designed as a heavy transport that ferries troops and supplies into and out of landing zones. A small number were built for British Special Operations but have been dogged by software and equipment problems, largely resulting from attempts by the Blair Brown Regime to cut costs. Those in British service have a history of software problems that have caused at least one major crash.
Recently, a British soldier died in Afghanistan because the RAF only had a Chinook helicopter without a winch to recover a group of soldiers from a minefield. The downraft from the Chinook rotors is believed to have triggered the mine that killed the soldier. After a delay of hours, the RAF had to request an American winch equipped Blackhawk to recover wounded and bodies from the minefield.
Less capable than a SAR/SOG configured Augusta Westland Merlin, the Sikorski Blackhawk is a potential military SAR helicopter, as was demonstrated in the recovery of British bodies and wounded from a minefield in Afghanistan
Until the present SAR chaos is resolved, military and Coast Guard crews will continue to provide a SAR capability in aging Sea King helicopters. As the Sea King disappears from the British military inventory, the cost of keeping the SAR Sea Kings flying will increase and become problematic. This is however not a new problem. It was already agreed in 1996 that the Sea King should be replaced and the Major Administration had assumed that a Merlin variant would be the logical option for military SAR, with consideration being given to the possibility of expanding voluntary SAR services in addition to maintaining a military SAR capability. When the Blair Brown Regime came to power in 1997, this as considered a trivial matter and then later subjected to the incompetent indecision that has characterized the Blair Brown Regime. Now, more than twelve years on, Britain still awaits a resolution to a vital emergency service and lives are placed at risk.