Search, rescue contract begins at Shannon


IRELAND has a world-class search-and-rescue service for the foreseeable future, according to a Government official.

Mr Michael Guilfoyle, Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Marine, was speaking at the launch of the new SAR (Search and Rescue) service operated by Scottish-based Bond Helicopters at Shannon Airport.

He praised the original operators of the service, Irish Helicopters. "A large number of people are alive today because of that contract," he said.

The chairman of Bond Helicopters, Mr Stephen Bond, said 19 of the 23 staff previously employed on the SAR service had joined his company.

This would retain local expertise and knowledge. He said the contract was valued at £3.2 million. Start-up costs amounted to £1 million and aircraft and equipment cost £4-£5 million, he said. All maintenance would be done in Shannon, he added.

He said he was "a little bit surprised" at local complaints that the contract was not awarded again to Irish Helicopters.

"People don't like change. Irish Helicopters was originally Irish, but is now 51 per cent UK-owned and 49 per cent American-owned, and the British interest is in the process of being bought up by an American group, giving the company a major American influence," he said.

He also said Bond would be involved in off-shore activity using Shannon as a base and would bid for a similar SAR contract for the east coast, based at Baldonnel, which has been announced by the Government.

The Aberdeen company is also based in Cork. Its UK and Irish operations currently involve 52 aircraft flying more than 50,000 hours a year from 20 bases, employing 600 staff. Sister companies world-wide employ 2,000 people.

The Bond contract is initially for a minimum of 2 1/2 years and may be extended to five years on - January 1st.

The company has two Sikorsky S61Ns stationed at its purpose-built base at Shannon, with hangarage, engineering, logistics, operations and technical support. Another S61N is currently conducting flight tests of a new Autohover.

Once certified, it will replace one of the aircraft currently at Shannon and become the primary SAR aircraft.

The Shannon helicopters have advanced features, including an advanced day/night infra-red and zoom television system which combines for the first time a broadcast-quality colour daylight camera together with a high performance thermal imager, enhancing the range at which vessels and survivors can be detected. Recently-developed Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) incorporating cockpit voice and flight data recorders will also be standard equipment.