Plan for rescue fleet at RAF Valley to be sold

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Concerns have been raised over emergency rescue services across large parts of Wales after plans to privatise search and rescue operations were leaked.

Proposals by the UK government include selling off helicopters at RAF Valley on Anglesey and replacing them with a private consortium.

A government source says the sale will be given the go-ahead.

Some coastguard control centres are expected to close.

One report suggests more than half could shut.

Image caption,
Prince William qualified as a pilot in September at RAF Valley in north Wales

Prince William, or Ft Lt Wales, graduated as a search and rescue pilot after 19 months of training at RAF Valley, taking up post in September.

His training included day and night flying and training to provide a life-saving rescue service to both military personnel and civilians in the UK.

It is thought the plans will not affect the Prince who will have completed his tour of duty with 22 Squadron by the time the plans are implemented in 2016.

The previous UK government proposed that private companies should take over the running of search and rescue helicopters from the RAF and that the Sea King fleet - in which Prince William learned to fly - should be scrapped.

'Greater risk'

This service is currently provided by the RAF and Royal Navy, plus civilian helicopters through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

In February it was announced that the 24-hour service would be run by private consortium Soteria from 2012, from 12 bases across the UK.

Aviation journalist Jim Ferguson said confirmation of the private finance initiative was expected on Tuesday.

"We were expecting a statement to the stock market on Tuesday saying a consortium - partly French, partly Canadian - based in Aberdeen - will be taking over the UK search and rescue fleet starting from 2012," he told BBC Wales.

"My understanding of this is that there will be no change in unit locations so RAF Valley will remain where it is.

"At the end of the day, there will be absolutely no difference to the level of service provided there.

"The Sea King fleet will be replaced with a new build of helicopter whose crews (under the private consortium) will continue to provide the same level of skill and courage as those we have now."

"There is a suggestion that (RAF) Chivenor (Devon) which covers south Wales will go from 24/7 availability to 12 hours a day - that has to be confirmed."

Mark Jones, deputy team leader at Brecon Mountain Rescue Team, said, following a rescue in the Beacons earlier this month, that plans to downgrade the Chivenor operation should be reconsidered.

"While we appreciate that these cutbacks need to take place for a reason, they are going to put rescuers and casualties at greater risk," he said.

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