The Royal Navy's Sea Kings are often called into action in rescues in the Scottish mountains

The Royal Navy's Sea Kings are often called into action in rescues in the Scottish mountains

The search and rescue helicopter service operated by the RAF and Royal Navy will be ditched in favour of a privatised civilian scheme under plans announced by the coalition Government.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening made the announcement in a written statement to Parliament today.

The decision follows the cancellation of the process set up by the previous Labour Government which would have seen a private finance initiative contract worth £7bn awarded to provide the service, which provides invaluable air support for Britain’s volunteer mountain rescue teams.

Irregularities in the bidding process led to its abandonment by the then Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

The familiar yellow RAF aircraft and the red and grey Royal Navy Sea Kings will disappear from the skies by 2016.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is patron of Mountain Rescue England and Wales, is currently serving as a pilot of Sea King helicopters flying out of RAF Valley on Anglesey.

The contract for services provided by civilian crews for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will also be put out to tender.

Ms Greening said: “The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force crews have shown great dedication and professionalism in delivering an exemplary search and rescue service for many years, and we owe them all great thanks for this.”

The familiar yellow RAF helicopters will no longer be seen over Britain's mountains

The familiar yellow RAF helicopters will no longer be seen over Britain's mountains

She said Philip Hammond, who took over as Defence Secretary following Liam Fox’s resignation, had agreed the new contract ‘enabling our armed forces to focus activity on their front line operations’, she said.

Ms Greening added: “Looking forward, we are confident that, building on nearly 30 years of civilian service provided under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, a fully civilian service will be able to maintain the same standards in the future.”

The new contract for search and rescue services is expected to last 10 years. The RAF and Royal Navy will continue to provide cover until any new helicopters go into service.

Search and rescue helicopters will be withdrawn from RAF Boulmer in Northumberland in 2015 and from the MCA base at Portland when interim services announced earlier this year come to an end.

The Transport Secretary said: “The introduction of a modern fleet of fast, reliable helicopters will lead to major improvements in the capability available from the present mix of helicopters.

“Modern helicopters operating from 10 full-time bases can not only continue to meet all current service requirements but also provide faster flying times to a large part of the UK search and rescue region, as well as providing a more reliable service.”

She said she expected to award the contract for the new service in 2013.

David Allan, chairman of Mountain Rescue England & Wales, said: “Mountain rescue has enjoyed excellent working relationships with both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy for many decades and we will be very sorry to witness the end of their outstanding service.

“If the new service is at least as good, as promised by Government, then we will adapt to work alongside them in the future.”

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