The new Coastguard search and rescue helicopter base at London Ashford Airport will start operations tomorrow, Friday 14 August 2015.The base will be officially on standby to receive taskings from the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre from 1300.
Bristow Helicopters Ltd will operate the SAR helicopter service on behalf of HM Coastguard after being awarded a ten year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013.The AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters in red and white HM Coastguard livery have already become a familiar sight with training operations from the base having commenced some weeks ago.The south east is well known to the new base’s Chief Pilot Captain Neil Robertson, a former Sea King pilot whose 17 year career in the RAF saw him serve as Flight Commander at RAF Wattisham’s SAR unit. Since leaving the military he has spent the past six years flying offshore in support of oil and gas operations in the North Sea and most recently supporting SAR training and preparations for the new civilian SAR service going live.Captain Robertson said: “Everyone at the base feels privileged to be involved in delivering such an important, lifesaving service and we are looking forward to getting started. Close working relationships with the other emergency services in the area and the military are key to ensuring a smooth transition to the civilian service and we’re grateful for all the support we’ve received from them.”Samantha Willenbacher, Director of UK search and rescue at Bristow Helicopters, said: “It is an honour to have been chosen to deliver this vital service across the UK. I would like to thank all those who have supported us in our preparations for the service going live here at Lydd including London Ashford Airport, other local emergencies services personnel, the local community, and in particular our colleagues at RAF Wattisham who have taken the time to share their local knowledge and expertise with us.”Richard Parkes, Director of Maritime Operations said: “HM Coastguard has been providing search and rescue helicopter services in northern Scotland and southern England for over thirty years. I am immensely proud that our first civilian base in Kent will begin operations on Friday.“I would also like to pay tribute to the outstanding work that RAF Wattisham has carried out over many decades, both inland and out to sea. We will ensure that their legacy is continued.”Charles Buchanan, Chief Executive of London Ashford Airport at Lydd in Kent said the establishment of Bristow’s new search and rescue helicopter base this summer has given the fast-expanding airport a real boost.“This investment by Bristow is warmly welcomed and coincides with rising passenger numbers, an increase in aircraft traffic, more jobs created and substantial investment in facilities, including a multi-million pound runway extension and a new £700,000 hangar.“There is a growing demand at Lydd driven by business and general aviation. In 2014 we handled 10% more passengers and 15% more aircraft movements than the previous year, and these trends are continuing. The year ahead is very exciting for Lydd and the arrival of Bristow has added to that momentum,” adds Charles.
The SAR helicopter base at London Ashford Airport is one of ten bases from which the UK SAR contract will be delivered. The first two of these bases at Humberside and Inverness began operations on 1 April 2015 with a base at Caernarfon in Wales following on 1 July. Bristow Helicopters also currently provides SAR services on behalf of HM Coastguard at Stornoway, in the Western Isles, and Sumburgh, in Shetland which will continue throughout the UK SAR contract.