Naval Air: Sea-Air Rescue Goes Commercial

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June 30, 2012:  Britain is joining a growing number of countries and turning SAR (Search and Rescue) responsibilities over to private contractors. Since World War II there has been a huge growth in SAR, primarily in the form of fixed wing and helicopter aircraft permanently assigned to this function. The aircraft were usually supplied by the military. In some countries, like Britain, the navy and air force assign some of their helicopters to SAR duties and rotate pilots into the job for a while. It's considered good, if often dangerous, training. But in the last few decades more nations have done the math and realized that it's cheaper to have private contractors do this kind of work. This trend is now accelerating.

All this is actually a return to the past, when the original (boat only) coastal rescue services were private and usually very local organizations. It was only later, about a century or so ago, that national government began to take over these tasks (much to the displeasure of many of the local volunteers). In Britain a third of the helicopter SAR units are now contractors, while half are run by the Royal Air Force and the other two by the Royal Navy.

Many of these contractor SAR pilots and ground crews are former military and are very familiar with the work. Oil companies, with extensive offshore drilling and pumping operations, often establish their own SAR operations when they are working in remote areas. This is another source of contractor personnel for SAR in heavily populated areas.

 


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