Everybody who uses the Solent for work or pleasure will be breathing a sigh of relief today.
Search-and-rescue operations are to continue to fly from Lee-on-the-Solent and people can feel reassured that, should they ever get into trouble out on the water, this vital life-saving service will still be close at hand.
In recent years there have been doubts over whether Lee would survive a proposed rationalisation of SAR, leading to fears that this part of the coast – and one of the busiest sea lanes in the world – might be left short of cover.
But yesterday’s announcement by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has now established beyond doubt that Lee is to continue as a 24-hour-a-day SAR base – one of 10 nationwide.
From 2015 the contract to run the UK’s SAR helicopter operations has been awarded to Bristow Helicopters, bringing to an end 70 years of SAR service provided by RAF and the Royal Navy SAR squadrons.
While it is sad that this will truly mark the end of an era, the new £1.6bn contract is to be managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the same way as the existing contract.
So people won’t notice any difference.
If anything, the service will improve with Sea King helicopters used in SAR work set to be replaced by a fleet of state-of-the-art Sikorsky and Agusta Westland helicopters.
They will be operated by highly-skilled crews who have the benefit of night vision and mission management technology.
There’ll be new facilities, equipment and extra jobs too.
The Department for Transport has also said that, under the new contract, helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK SAR region within one hour of take-off.
So we celebrate the government’s vote of confidence in Lee as an SAR base and look forward to the new helicopters being ready to come to the rescue whenever they are needed.
But we also salute the seven decades of proud and devoted service provided by RAF and navy squadrons.