Britain's famed air-sea search-and-rescue helicopter service, run by the Royal Air Force and boasting Prince William among its pilots, is to be privatized and sold to a U.S. company, ending 70 years of military involvement in the service, the United Kingdom government announced Tuesday.
The $2.4 billion deal with Houston-based Bristow Group Inc. "will see the UK benefit from improved flying times and better coverage of high-risk areas," the Department for Transport said on its website.
"With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first class service with state-of-the-art helicopters," Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said in a statement.
The air-sea rescue service currently employs Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters that are nearly 40 years old, Reuters reported.
The Ministry of Defense in London said that military aircrew currently assigned to the service will be redeployed elsewhere.
They include Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II's grandson and the second in line to the throne, who has been a Sea King helicopter pilot since 2010 and currently is serving at a base in north Wales, according to Reuters.
His tour is up this year, the agency said.
Under the new contract, 22 new helicopters will operate from 10 24-hour bases around the country, the Department for Transport said. The new aircraft, including 10 Sikorsky S92s and 10 AgustaWestland AW189s will all be fully operational by 2017.
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