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Search and rescue helicopters to take off from Manston Airport

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The RAF search and rescue helicopter
The RAF search and rescue helicopter

by Peter Barnett

The search and rescue helicopter service is to return to Manston Airport.

The distinctive yellow choppers left the airbase in the mid 1990s in a controversial decision that saw them relocate to RAF Wattisham in Suffolk.

But the planned closure of Wattisham and the award of a new search and rescue contact to Bristows, means the civilian service is expected to return to Thanet from July 1, 2015.

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale and his then parliamentary colleague Jonathan Aitken from Thanet South argued against the original move away from Thanet is a parliamentary debate, arguing that the travelling time of one hour from Wattisham to the south Kent coast was too long.

Manston Airport
Manston Airport

Manston Airport, soon to be the base for the RAF search and rescue helicopter

Sir Roger said: “We were concerned then - and I have been concerned since - that the distancing of the aircraft from the busiest stretch of water in the world might result in delayed response to any serious incident.

“Happily, no such disaster has taken place in the intervening years but the fact remains that the Channel bottleneck that is the Straits of Dover is an accident waiting to happen.

Herne Bay MP Roger Gale
Herne Bay MP Roger Gale

“We are fortunate to enjoy an excellent coastguard service as well as the volunteers of the RLNI, but there have been times in the past when rescue and recovery has been dependent upon helicopters and there is the ever constant fear that those services may be needed again.

“To have the aircraft based in close proximity to both the Channel and the Thames Estuary as well as the dangerous waters off the North Foreland and in the North Sea is therefore a very welcome return.”

Sir Roger understands new facilities will be built at Manston to house the latest high-tech Augustus Westland helicopters.

He said: “This will be a significant investment in Thanet and will create jobs.

"It will also underscore the importance of Manston Airport as a significant contributor to aviation in the South East.”

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