Britain's search and rescue service privatised

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's search and rescue service, which employs Prince William as a helicopter pilot, will be taken out of military control and run by a private US firm.

The government said on Monday that it had signed a 1.6 billion pound (S$3 billion) contract with Texas-based Bristow Helicopters to provide emergency air support for climbers, walkers and people who find themselves in trouble at sea.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy have run the rescue service for more than 70 years, but will now withdraw and retire their fleet of Sea King helicopters.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the decision to privatise the service "was not made lightly".

Fears have been expressed that a service run by a private company will have a different approach to one operated by the military.

Prince William, second in line to the throne, is a flight lieutenant based at an RAF station on Anglesey in northwest Wales, from where he pilots missions to help stranded climbers and stricken vessels.

In 2011, the prince is understood to have voiced his concern to British Prime Minister David Cameron over plans to privatise the service.

Under the new contract, 22 state-of-the-art helicopters will operate from 10 locations around Britain.

The Department for Transport argues that under the new contract, helicopters will be able to reach a larger area within one hour of take-off than is currently possible.

It predicted that the more modern and faster helicopters would be able to reach some incidents around 20 minutes faster than they currently do.

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