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  • Writer's pictureLudo Mennes

2023 Orange is the new yellow


AW189 hovering over runway 03 of Den Helder Airport

As a nation with a large coast line, the Search And Rescue (SAR) task has been an important one for the Netherlands since the early days of the helicopter. In the past the SAR task was provided by both the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) and Air Force (RNLAF). No 7 Squadron, RNLN, operated the Westland “Lynx” helicopter from NAS De Kooy and for many years provided the primary SAR service for the Netherlands. No 303 Squadron, RNLAF, operated the Agusta AB412SP helicopter, from Leeuwarden Air Base and supported gunnery activities on the ranges, providing SAR for fast jet ejectees. They also facilitated transport of patients from the Dutch Wadden islands. After the withdrawal of the “Lynx” helicopter and disbandment of 303 Squadron the SAR task was taken over in 2015 by the company Noordzee Helicopters Vlaanderen (NHV) under a five years plus two contract. NHV operated four AS365 “Dauphin” helicopters with a yellow livery, from Den Helder Airport and Rotterdam Pistoolhaven Heliport.

AS365 Dauphin of NHV landing at Den Helder afte ra SAR mission

SAR contract

In April 2021 the Dutch Defence Material Organisation (DMO) awarded Bristow the preliminary contract to provide SAR capacity to the Netherlands Coast Guard. Organizational control of the Coast Guard is the responsibility of the Dutch Ministry of Defence. As the NHV Group rejected the outcome of the tender it went to court to fight this decision. However, the court ruled in favour of the DMO and the definite SAR contract was awarded to Bristow in November 2021. Bristow is not a newcomer to the Netherlands as it provided offshore SAR activities between 2004 and 2014. For that 10 year period Bristow, commissioned by the Dutch NOGEPA (Netherlands Oil and Gas Exploration and Production industry Association), operated two Sikorsky S-61N helicopters to provide rescue capacity for crews working at offshore platforms on the Dutch part of the North Sea, and in that time they often supported other SAR taskings for the Coastguard.

Bristow Group Inc

The company was created in 1955 by Alan Bristow to support oil and gas companies with crew transport to rigs in the Persian Gulf. Since then, the company has grown into one of the largest civilian helicopter companies in the world providing aviation services to support energy companies, commercial SAR activities and aircraft supporting services to governments and civil organizations. The company has customers all over the world operating in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe. Managing director for Bristow Netherlands is James Lorraine, former helicopter pilot in the RNLN. James Lorraine was personally involved in the tender process within Bristow’s Business Development Team, which coordinated efforts to present the winning solution, and was subsequently responsible for the establishment of Bristow Netherlands. He continued:

“As a result of this hard work, today, we stand ready with the right skills, the right equipment and the right facilities to deliver a lifesaving response, 24/7, from Den Helder and Midden Zeeland Airport, to the people of the Netherlands. The team has already proven their capabilities in emergency situations on land and at sea and we are looking forward to more close, collaborative working with all our partners as we grow and develop this critical service.

Two of the new AW189 helicopters with the striking new color scheme

Contract

Bristow Netherlands operates a team of around 70 people divided over their two locations. Around 20 pilots, 35 technical crew members, 12 line engineers and other staff members are involved. All crews fly from both locations to provide the right mix of quality and standardization between the two locations.

One of the requirements for the Dutch contract was the fact that the possible operator needed to hold an commercial Air Operator Certificate (AOC). The AOC safeguards the highest professional standards against which the organization provides its services. Bristow Netherlands had to obtain this AOC with a many specific approvals, amongst others; offshore operations, emergency medical services, low visibility, night vision, and hoist operations. James Lorraine explained:

“Gaining a full AOC is a major task. It is a tightly regulated process and demands a rigorous approach to important areas including safety, risk management, reporting and quality.

Every country has specific AOC demands but drawing on our experience across the globe – Bristow’s SAR operations extend to the USA, Norway, the UK and many other countries – helped ensure we could meet or exceed all the requirements here. This puts us in position to deliver a service both the Netherlands Coast Guard, and Bristow, can be proud of.”

Bristow Netherlands will provide SAR services for a period of 10 years with an option for two times a one year extension.

Operations

Bristow Netherlands provides this all-weather SAR service with two plus one spare dedicated SAR configured AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters on a 20 minutes alert status. The helicopters are tasked by the Coast Guard Joint Rescue and Coordination Center (JRCC) in Den Helder. Beside their SAR task, the helicopters may also be used for training, medical evacuation, incidents involving ships, rigs or wind turbines at the North Sea and transportation of the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG). The MIRG team provides advice and assistance in case of fire at sailing ships.

The standard crew consists of two pilots, and a technical crew consisting of a winch operator, a winchman and a SAR nurse to provide urgent medical care. The helicopter is capable of carrying an additional 19 persons. They are equipped with the Teledyne FLIR Star Safire 380 HD imaging system and the Telephonics RDR1700 search radar. Furthermore, the helicopters are equipped with a winch for hoisting and searchlights. The cabin is customised with bespoke medical stations offering the SAR nurse the possibility to provide medical treatment to casualties. For communication the helicopters have a number of wide-band and multi-band radios, two maritime VHF radios and a SAT phone on board. One of the most important short-term goals is the connecting of all data streams of the different assets (fixed wing, helicopter and ground operations) in one mission management system to create information-driven action for coast guard operations. Both fixed wing and helicopter activities for the Netherlands Coast Guard have changed on the same day. ISR Europe B.V. started operating two De Havilland Canada DHC-8-102MPA Dash 8 aircraft for maritime patrol. The connection between all assets will most likely be realised in the first part of 2023.

Two of the helicopters were sourced by the British part of Bristow, the third one was brand new bought and delivered from Italy on October 28. All helicopters have received appropriate registrations; PH-NCG (Netherlands Coast Guard), PH-SAR (Search And Rescue) and PH-BSR (Bristow Search And Rescue). The last has British red and white SAR livery, and is temporarily based in the Netherlands. It will be replaced coming spring by another helicopter, which is currently undergoing modifications in the UK, from an off-shore to a SAR configuration and will receive the registration PH-RSQ (Rescue). The helicopters have received a striking orange, white and blue colour scheme with coast guard and rescue titles on both sides.

Before commencing operations, the crews conducted much of their training at a Bristow SAR base in Lee on Solent, UK, and shortly before the start of the SAR-task also in the Netherlands. A total of 250 flights and 450 flight hours were flown to qualify and train all necessary procedures. The professionalism and high standards of the Bristow teams involved, made it possible to start on time and transition seamlessly to this new national SAR service.


James Lorraine concluded: “This contract has got off to a flying start! Our team in the Netherlands has a wealth of specialist civil and military experience and, as part of the global Bristow group, we have access to an unprecedented level of support and knowledge. All of this combined means every one of us comes to work each day with a smile on our face – it’s an amazing team to be a part of and an incredible service to deliver. We are all looking forward to the future.”

Northern Skies Aviation would like to thank the crew of Bristow Group Inc. for their cooperation and awesome photo shoot!

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