|RAF Sea Kings: around for a little longer|
Image Source: RAF Valley website
This is only to be expected as over the past 20 plus years we have long grown accustomed to the reassuring sight of the iconic yellow Sea Kings flying overhead piloted and manned by brave RAF servicemen and women. We also know that the search and rescue work they perform, on land and sea, is often a matter of life and death -- and therefore it is entirely right than any changes to these arrangements are subject to the very highest levels of scrutiny. For this reason I completely agree with Albert Owen MP when he said yesterday, "lets put safety as the basis, lets put expertise as the basis" for determining any future changes to the service.
However now that the privatisation of the service has been stopped the question remains as to how the current fleet of ageing Sea King choppers -- many of which are approaching the end of their service lives -- will be replaced. The previous Labour government sought to privatise the whole function through a 25 year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal in order to avoid the capital expense of having to buy a whole new fleet of Search and Rescue helicopters. Whether this would have been more cost effective or not is open to debate as many Government PFI deals have been so ineptly handled that the they have ended up costing far, far more over the long term. However, whatever your view on PFI deals it would at least have provided for the full replacement of all old Sea Kings with brand new, faster Sikorsky helicopters of a type currently used by the already privatised Coast Guard Search and Rescue service.
I understand that the potential procurement options to meet future SAR requirements are now being considered. My personal hope is that the Government will now find a way, despite the financial pressures, to fund the new helicopters which will become necessary in the long run to preserve the standard of this life saving service. Furthermore I will continue to argue for the preservation and further development of RAF Valley as the key Search and Rescue base in North Wales and beyond.