§ Lord Rogan
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is the estimated expenditure on air sea rescue in Northern Ireland in the financial year 2002–03. [HLI471]
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
Current daytime provision of search and rescue (SAR) in Northern Ireland is carried out by both a Wessex helicopter from RAF Aldergrove and by Sea King helicopters at RNAS Prestwick and RAF Valley. The Wessex helicopter provides a limited daytime service incorporated within its principal task of providing a trooping capabilitiy. By night both Prestwick and Valley provide cover for Northern Ireland and the surrounding seas.
The Wessex reaches the end of its operational service at the end of March 2002, and after that date day and night SAR cover will continue to be provided from the mainland. The Sea Kings are dedicated, all weather capable SAR aircraft, with fully trained crews, and can respond to an emergency much faster than a Wessex. They have greater endurance and greater lift capacity and can remain on a task for longer without needing to refuel.
Other military aircraft deployed in Northern Ireland will be available for search and medical evacuations at one hour's notice in support of the mainland SAR aircraft. A decision on a replacement aircraft for the Wessex in the support helicopter role in Northern Ireland has yet to be taken, and so it is not possible at the moment to estimate expenditure on SAR operations in Northern Ireland during the next financial year.