Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Privatising Air-Sea Rescue Services.

One of the most idiotic decisions that has been made by this government is, in my view, the decision to privatise the air-sea helicopter rescue service which is at present provided by the R.A.F and the R.N.
See the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
What possible logic can there be or this decision? How can it possibly be in the best interests of this country?
It would seem that for some reason, the responsibility for such rescue work comes under the Ministry of Transport, and no doubt some bureaucrat has worked out that it will be cheaper, at least in  so far as his budget is concerned, to privatise the activity. No doubt each flight will require authorisation, thus providing more work for administrative staff (Mon-Fri 9am-4pm only!). Of course, such narrow-minded officials never consider the "overall picture" or the overall cost, just their own budget.
Now, I'm not suggesting that the decision is wrong just because Prince William says so, although I think he is right.
If one looks at the situation from a Military viewpoint, it is clear that our Services need an increased helicopter capacity for the various roles that they may have to undertake in the coming years. One of these roles is search and rescue, whether it is a seaman who has fallen overboard from a ship, or a soldier on the battlefield, with numerous other scenarios in between. You can neither acquire the helicopters to carry out such work in five minutes, nor can you instantly train the crew, and thus, if we are to continue to be a military power, we must be prepared to have such men and equipment available for instant deployment. We all should be aware of the time that it takes to train a rescue helicopter pilot from the snippets of news about Prince William's training which have appeared in the media.
So how do you train such crew, and more importantly, keep them fully trained?
When a country is nominally at a state of peace, military training is carried out by various exercises, which by their very nature, can never be true to life, as clearly under such circumstances no one wants to take any unnecessary risks. Such exercises are also very expensive and there is no visible result at the end of the day.
Presumably, for the rescue helicopter crews, exercises would involve picking up dummies and shifting them elsewhere. Even so, the cost of keeping the helicopter in the air is no less, it still has to be serviced and requires fuelling, etc. All that will probably be different, is that the military helicopters, which will still be required, will have a few less "Hours on the clock", and our military pilots.and less training for vital military roles.

The Telegraph states that the Minister's view is that the changes will provide a modern fleet of “fast, reliable helicopters” that would lead to “major improvements in the capability available from the present mix of helicopters”.  The minister said. It would also provide “a more reliable service”.

On the other hand, one might deduce that Ministers don't consider that the R.A.F. and the R.N. require a "modern fleet of fast, reliable helicopters” and that they will have to carry out their Military duties, as usual, with out-of-date equipment and minimal training.

Incidentally, the funding for one of the proposed bids will come from a consortium which includes the Royal Bank of Scotland. As RBS went broke and is now owned by the government, how comes it that it has the funds to provide this "modern fleet of fast, reliable helicopters”? Wouldn't it be better for the government to simply go out and buy them without using an intermediary?

To me the whole deal stinks, we are letting our Services down by using financial slight of hand to make it appear that spending has been cut, and then funding the helicopters by the back door. The main difference is that if the military purchased them, they would be available for general Service use should the need arise. As it is the country will own nothing, just as with our schools and hospitals bought under PFI agreements. Presumably it will also allow the RBS to appear to make a profit on the loan that it will be providing to fund the helicopters, which in turn will allow the government to return it to private ownership.

As I said, the deal stinks, and I'm not smelling AvGas or Jet Fuel!

1 comment:

  1. The RAF will still need to train SAR pilots for RAF operations at home and abroad. SAR pilots are selected from existing RAF pilots because of the gruelling nature of the job. I don't believe there is any direct entry. They will still need SAR helicopters. SAR is effectively a military capacity which has an invaluable civilian component.
    SARTU at RAF Valley may still be used to train civilian pilots, in the same way that it has trained foreign SAR pilots for foreign airforces.
    But a cvilian pilot, however brave, will be subject to health and safety rules which could not apply to the military.
    Its lucky the Government doesn't own the RNLI.
    High risk rescue operations to make profits for private investors is not a good combination. Lives will be lost.