The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has started the bidding process that will lead to a new five-year Royal Navy helicopter support contract.
The contract for the provision of helicopter services for Fleet Operational Sea Training (FOST) has been expanded to include support for the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers and for Maritime Counter Terrorism (MCT) – the latter will include for the first time a Search and Rescue (SAR) service.
FOST helicopter support was previously based at Plymouth Airport for sixteen years.
The new five-year contract will be awarded later in 2023 for start by March 2024 and could potentially be extended for up to 10 years. It replaces that held by British International Helicopters (BIH), at Plymouth. BIH was forced to relocate the FOST operation to Newquay in 2011 when Plymouth Airport closed.
Day-to-day operational activity remains centred around the Plymouth area however, as the FOST teams are based at Devonport. This requires frequent transits to and from Newquay into the city. These transits not only increase fuel and maintenance costs for the RN customer and the operator, they can also limit the time that helicopters are available for flights between Devonport and naval vessels at sea.
The optimal base for this helicopter support contract therefore is Plymouth and Plymouth Airport is now being looked at by potential bidders.
FlyPlymouth has been in contact with a number of the potential operators and has been approached by others that are putting their proposals together.
FlyPlymouth’s David Simpson – formerly Chief Operating Officer at BIH – knows only too well how important the regular deployment of FOST teams from Plymouth direct to the ships under training and assessment is.
He said: “The FOST activity is critical in ensuring the Royal Navy’s ships are fully combat capable and safe to operate, in addition to the many NATO and foreign warships that also request their services for such activity off Plymouth.”
“Operating the Fleet Helicopter Support Unit for FOST is critical to its efficiency and flexibility. Given the nature of the activity, the loss of the Plymouth Airport base was an unnecessary degradation of the service from many perspectives.”
“This is a prestigious contract which is now expanding to provide key logistic support to the Navy’s magnificent new aircraft carriers, as well as maritime counter-terrorism support – especially search and rescue standby.”
As to the contract’s future basing at Plymouth, Simpson said: “It is critical now that bidders have confidence that the airfield will be available to them by mid 2023 at the very latest if they are to include the City airport base in their final proposals. Its time for Plymouth City Council to stop procrastinating and get the airport re-opened this year.”