First of all, could you tell us some more about the kind of services that SAR International provides?
SAR International provides training and consultancy services to aviation search and rescue (SAR) regulatory authorities, contracting agencies and service providers (e.g., Civil Aviation Authority, Coast Guard, Helicopter Operator). We provide consultancy in the SAR aviation domain in a variety of areas including development of National SAR aviation regulations, IAMSAR Vol 1 Appendix H National Self-Assessment of the SAR system, development of National SAR plans, regulatory compliance support to SAR helicopter/aero plane operators, CAA SAR Inspector workshops and advice on effective SAR oversight.
We design and deliver training courses to meet our customers' specific needs and deliver them virtually or in person. We have also developed generic SAR courses that we deliver through our training partner JAATO Netherlands. Examples of SAR aviation training courses we have developed include effective SAR System Oversight, SAR AOC Management, SAR Safety Management Systems, SAR Standards and Regulations, National SAR Plan Development.
Can you give us some practical examples of the organization’s that you’ve helped to train and implement protocols with, in the past?
We have trained a variety of organizations including involvement in the development of state SAR aviation regulations for an EU member state and have also assisted a global helicopter operator to develop its organizational requirements to enable it to bid for a National civil SAR contract. We have also worked in collaboration with a governmental agency to develop the operational procedures for a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (Marine and Aviation).
What is your background in the SAR sector, and how did you come to be in in your current role as Director of Operations and Oversight?
I served in the Irish Air Corps for 13 years and flew SAR on the Alouette III and AS365 Dauphin until 1996. Since then, I have worked in civil helicopter operations primarily as an operational helicopter pilot for commercial, private and SAR/HEMS/NVIS operators. I hold an ATPL (H) and have held type ratings on various types of helicopters including H215, AS 365 Dauphin, Agusta109 E and Bell430. I have 20 years’ experience as a nominated person (NP) for flight operations in civil helicopter AOC’s providing commercial air transport, SAR, HEMS, NVIS and SPO. My operational and management experience with SAR, CAT, HEMS/AA helicopter operators in both the military and civil environment has given me a broad perspective on the challenges of providing a service in the most demanding of environments.
In Europe, there are a growing number of states contracting civil SAR operators to meet their state SAR obligations. This pivot away from the traditional military SAR provider to the civil operator has exposed regulatory issues that create risk for the operator, regulator and contracting agency. For example, the Basic Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2018/1139) does not apply to search and rescue and it is up to each State to make regulatory provisions for SAR. In contrast, operators conducting HEMS in an EU member state must comply with the requirements of Part SPA.HEMS. I believe that the lack of a standardized approach to SAR safety regulation and oversight could potentially cause tension between the SAR regulator, SAR contracting agency and SAR operator, which is a latent hazard to the safe conduct of SAR operations.
In 2020 I co-founded Search and Rescue International with the aim to facilitate international, national and SAR stakeholder operational requirements as components of a total SAR system, as well as enhance safety management, compliance monitoring and quality assurance systems to add safety, capability, and value for SAR.
How do you think international collaboration between SAR agencies can be improved upon from where it is now?
We believe a state performance-based SAR oversight program needs to be established and developed rather than the civil operator being overseen in a commercial air transport manner with associated SAR related alleviations and permissions. Additionally, SAR should be subject to Flight Safety Standards, as well as ANS, with the additional requirement to establish, implement and maintain SAR SARPs in the form of National SAR Rules for SAR aviation service providers.
Are there international quality standards to which SAR agencies can be held?
SAR appears in the Air Navigation Services (ANS) structure of ICAO Doc 9734, Safety Oversight Manual, but not under the Flight Safety Standards or Aircraft Operations hierarchy. As a result, no SAR Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) exist to assist state Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) to construct civil SAR rules as part of their SAR system obligations.
SAR International states ‘an accident should not be the catalyst for a systematic review’, yet it often – sadly – is the case. How can this mindset be altered?
We are focused on the current opportunities for improvement in ational SAR regulations and oversight. Since we founded our company in 2020, we have reached out to SAR stakeholders in order to put this topic on the agenda and raise awareness.
We recently presented our experience on lessons learned conducting a National SAR Framework Review to the ICAO European Regional SAR Task Force. This confirmed the lack of appropriate SAR training available and we decided to provide a solution. We have just initiated the development of an ICAO Training Package for ‘Effective SAR System Oversight’ in association with the Regional Training Centre of Excellence at the JAATO, Netherlands and we expect to have this training available by the end of 2022.
How are your training courses tailored to the operators’ need?
We first engage with our client to understand the specific area of SAR where they feel they need training. We have found a general lack of SAR regulation and oversight experience within regulatory authorities and contracting agencies who are ultimately responsible for this task.
Following an analysis of the National SAR environment we will recommend which of our SAR training modules would be suitable and we then provide the training virtually or on location.
How are you integrating the increasing use of drones/unmanned vehicles in SAR into your training protocols?
Global SAR systems have to integrate their maritime, aeronautical, and urban SAR assets and UAS are an exciting area that is currently innovating.
UAS add another layer of capability to a SAR system. Our training courses provide our clients with an overview of how to manage the safety, efficiency, and operational robustness of UAS integration into the SAR system. We are excited to be involved is this groundbreaking area of SAR.
Many governments now are outsourcing their SAR needs; do you think this will continue to be the case, and if so, will this have a positive impact on the private SAR operating sector, or could it adversely affect operators due to decisions being down to cost rather than quality?
The value of a human life is priceless and if you are unfortunate enough to need to be rescued by a SAR helicopter then cost is the last thing on your mind. Civil SAR can be viewed as expensive and governments need to demonstrate due diligence and value for money to the taxpayer when awarding a contract and SAR is no different. For example, the current SAR contract in the UK is valued at £1.6 billion and for the taxpayer this may not appear cheap. The new SAR contract (UKSAR2G) which is due to commence in circa 2026 is currently going through the tender process.
We see a trend in civil SAR contracts towards ‘mission creep’ where the SAR operator is also contracted to conduct non-SAR taskings such as CAT, HEMS, firefighting, border surveillance and Specialized Operations (SPO). The SAR contract requirements contain non-SAR elements so that ‘spare capacity’ can be utilized. Spare capacity in this context relates to the time a helicopter/aeroplane is on standby waiting to be tasked, and in business terminology the contracting agency is keen to ‘sweat the asset’ and demonstrate value for money. This presents a challenge to the aircraft commander/crew as different taskings are subject to different regulations and dynamic risk assessments need to be conducted while airborne. We believe this is a significant safety riskthatneeds to be managed appropriately and places an extra burden on the operator.
How do you think technology is going to change the SAR sector for the better in the future?
I believe that it will facilitate better communications systems leading to improved casualty outcomes, improved weather forecasting tools available for enhanced mission planning and safety, integration of UAS into SAR operations which will create efficiencies for SAR tasking and reduce cost. Not to mention the increasing speed and range capabilities of SAR Helicopters, and the Enhanced Safety Awareness due to social media campaigns and education down the line.