St Athan’s HM Coastguard search and rescue (SAR) helicopter base has rung the changes with the arrival of two brand-new Leonardo AW189 helicopters, which flew into service for the first time yesterday.
The new aircraft replace two smaller Leonardo AW139 aircraft, which have been a familiar sight in the skies above South Wales and North Devon since October 2015. Each new £20 million AW189 helicopter, painted in red and white HM Coastguard colours, is operated by Bristow Helicopters, on behalf of HM Coastguard.
The Coastguard base at St Athan is the fourth base in the UK to fly this new model of helicopter for SAR missions, following Lydd and Lee-on-Solent on the south coast, and Prestwick in Scotland.
The Leonardo AW189 is the latest generation helicopter in its category and is designed to meet long-range, high endurance requirements for search and rescue missions in the most demanding operational and environmental conditions.
St Athan is one of seven purpose-built sites created since Bristow took responsibility for the UK SAR service. Each new base represents an investment worth in the region of £7million.
As one of 10 Coastguard bases strategically located around the UK, St Athan provides vital life-saving support to the fishing and other marine industries, as well as to land-based incidents including mountain rescue, missing persons and other medical emergencies.
Bristow crews are delivering the UK SAR helicopter service on behalf of HM Coastguard with state-of-the-art helicopters, equipped with the latest search and rescue technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.
Damien Oliver, Aviation Programme Director at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said:
“In common with the capability previously delivered to our teams at Prestwick, Lydd and Lee-on-Solent, these brand new AW189s can work in all weathers, and across the UK’s most challenging terrain. They represent a significant investment in new technology, which further underscores the importance with which the MCA views its lifesaving work.”
Olly Padbury, Chief Pilot at St Athan, said:
“Bringing the new AW189s into service was the final milestone in our calendar – I know there has been keen interest in their arrival in the region, to support rescue missions at sea and on-land across the region.
“I flew the final AW139 mission and, at our daily duty handover, Deputy Chief Pilot, Steve Whalley undertook a training sortie in the AW189, which was the perfect way to signal the change of aircraft.
“The aircraft provides us with a range of technologies and capabilities which support our work in bringing people home safely from a search and rescue operation. Through year-round training, using aircraft of this standard gives us the best chance of living up to the incredibly high standard the UK SAR service is renowned for.”
The St Athan base is operated by a team of 20, located at the Coastguard SAR base at St Athan Aerospace in South Wales. Bristow began operating the UK’s SAR helicopter service on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in 2015, after winning the tender in 2013.