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Next Generation UK SAR Aircraft Fly into Service at St Athan

September 25, 2018

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 Limited, 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.


For further information on HM Coastguard, contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency press office on 020 381 72222.

For further information on Bristow Helicopters Ltd call Alan Gorham on 01224 253810 or 07834 157667.

Notes to Editors:

About HM Coastguard
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is a frontline delivery and emergency response organisation which is an agency of the Department for Transport. Part of the MCA is HM Coastguard, which provides a UK-wide maritime emergency prevention and response capability which responds to calls for help by radio, satellite or the 999 service and co-ordinates maritime search and rescue (SAR) within the UK SAR region. The agency helps approximately 25,000 people each year with 21,000 incidents coordinated by its rescue centres.

About Bristow Helicopters Ltd
Bristow Helicopters Ltd is the provider of helicopter search and rescue (SAR) services in the UK, on behalf of Her Majesty's Coastguard, having been awarded the UK SAR contract and the Gap SAR contract for Northern Scotland. Bristow Helicopters has a long history of providing world class SAR services in the UK, beginning in 1971 and has flown more than 44,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted over 15,000 SAR missions, during which more than 7,000 people have been rescued by our crews and helicopters. For more information on Bristow’s SAR operations, please visit

Bristow Helicopters Ltd. has served the offshore oil transport industry in the UK for nearly 60 years. Bristow Helicopters Ltd. is an affiliated company of Bristow Group Inc.

About Bristow Group
Bristow Group Inc. is the leading provider of helicopter services to the worldwide offshore energy industry based on the number of aircraft operated and one of two helicopter service providers to the offshore energy industry with global operations. The company has major transportation operations in the North Sea, Nigeria and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, and in most of the other major offshore oil and gas producing regions of the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia and Trinidad. For more information, visit the Company's website at