Emergency services / Change to helicopter response time ‘could put lives at risk’, claims MP

A red and white hm coastguard helicopter in flight against a clear blue sky.

PLANS to increase the response time for the Sumburgh based search and rescue helicopter have drawn concern from Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

The proposal is to increase the ‘readiness state’ to one hour from 2026 onwards. At the moment it is 15 minutes in the daytime, and rising to 45 later on.

It forms part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s UKSAR2G programme.

“This is worrying news both in the substance and in the way that it is being handled,” Carmichael said.

“The coastguard helicopter is a highly valued and valuable resource. You cannot imagine any government minister deciding that the target response time for ambulances or the fire service in a town or a city would be quadrupled and that there would be no consultation with the communities concerned.

“For island and coastal communities, this is no different.

“I am calling on the shipping minister to make an immediate statement on this and to publish the full risk assessment that ought to have been made for a change of this sort even to be considered. A change of this sort is bound to put lives at risk.


“How many lives are the government prepared to risk in order to make a financial saving?”

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesperson said: “The readiness state of the helicopter based at Sumburgh is 15 mins in the day and 45 mins at night.

“This state of readiness will continue through the next three years until October 2026.

“Discussions relating to readiness states beyond this date are ongoing.”

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