UK Government suspends SAR-H helicopter programme
The new coalition government has decided to suspend the UK's Search and Rescue - Helicopter (SAR-H) programme following a review into spending decisions made by the previous Labour administration.
In an announcement made in the House of Commons by Treasury Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, the government has decided to axe 12 projects worth £2 billion, and suspend a further 12, worth more than £8 billion. Of these 12, SAR-H is the largest, coming in at £4.6 billion.
Alexander told the Commons that SAR-H will be 'reviewed as a matter of urgency'.
The SAR-H programme is a joint Department for Transport (DfT) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) contract which would end the involvement of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy in search and rescue operations and introduce a new harmonised fleet of aircraft which operate under the banner of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), although some military aircrew, roughly 66, will be retained to operate a handful of the new helicopters.
The private finance initiative (PFI) programme was closely contested by bidders AirKnight and Soteria, but Soteria was announced as the 'preferred bidder' on 9 February.
The company was planning to use a fleet of 24 Sikorsky S-92s to replace the Sea Kings being used by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm. The Sea Kings are due to exit service by 2017. No contract has been signed but had been expected later in the year.
At the time of writing no comment was forthcoming from Soteria.
The coalition government had accused the previous Labour administration of operating a 'scorched earth' policy when it came to spending decisions in its final few months of power. SAR-H was one of a number of programmes agreed to by the Labour administration in three months leading up to the May general election.
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