The contract for the Irish Coast Guard's search and rescue service looks likely to be awarded to Bristow Ireland Ltd in the coming weeks following the Government's announcement of "preferred bidder" status.

The 10-year contract, with provision for a three-year extension, will see the retention of SAR helicopter bases in Sligo, Shannon, Waterford and Dublin and will also include a fixed-wing aircraft for five years of that time.

According to the Government, the service contract will cost about €670m over 10 years, not including VAT.

This compares with €60m per year under the current contract with CHC Ireland, the Irish subsidiary of CHC Helicopter.

There was controversy late in 2021 and early in 2022 when the initial tender process put out by the Department of Transport indicated that the new contract would need to provide a minimum of three helicopter bases, leading to fears that one of the four existing bases would lose its SAR presence.

However, the Government moved to amend that condition weeks later when it specified that four bases would have to be retained.

In a statement today, the Department of Transport said that the Government has accepted a recommendation from the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister of State Jack Chambers to offer the next SAR contract to Bristow Ireland Ltd.

"The contract will provide for the day and night-time operation of four helicopter bases in Sligo, Shannon, Waterford and Dublin," the department said.

"In addition to the helicopter service, the new Coast Guard aviation service will, for the first time, also include a fixed wing aircraft element."

There is provision for both the helicopter and fixed-wing element of the service to be extended to 13 years, although the Air Corps could be asked to provide the fixed-wing aircraft after five years.

"The preferred bidder was selected following a comprehensive procurement project undertaken by the Department of Transport that included an initial market engagement process, a prequalifying process, an initial Request for Tender, a negotiation process, and final evaluation of a Best and Final Offer Tender from the shortlisted bidders," the Department said, adding that it will be working with the preferred bidder to finalise contracts in the coming weeks.

CHC Ireland was involved in the bidding process but was unsuccessful.

In a statement this evening, CHC said: "It is with regret that we learned today that CHC Ireland were unsuccessful in our bid to retain the IRCG Search and Rescue aviation contract for the next 10 years," adding that the company had served the people of Ireland with "great distinction" for 20-plus years and that staff had given "100% commitment".

Bristow Helicopters Ltd run the search and rescue service for the coastguard in the UK.

It is believed that the change of operator will not affect existing helicopter staff involved in the Coast Guard service here, but different helicopters could be used when the new contract comes into effect, expected to be in July of next year.