Dutch court rejects NHV appeal against Bristow SAR contract award

Dutch court rejects NHV appeal against Bristow SAR contract award

18-Aug-2021 Source: HeliHub.com

The Dutch court has rejected the appeal by NHV on the way that the new Dutch SAR contract was decided, which leaves Bristow Helicopters to start the contract with AW189s on 1st July 2022.

​SAR support in the Netherlands is currently flown by NHV using AS365N helicopters – the first time SAR had been contracted out in the country​. Prior to 2015, the Dutch military provided cover with three Agusta-Bell 412s​, which were later sold to the Peruvian Air Force.

A tender for the next contract was issued, with the results announced in April 2021 – with only Bristow and NHV in contention at that time. US-based Bristow were declared the winners, but Belgian operator NHV then appealed that decision. Given the tender was run by the Dutch Defence Materials Organisation (DMO), the appeal was handled by the Justice Department. This latter organisation has now considered the evidence and issued its statement, which you can read in full here. We summarise it below.

NHV were not in a position to provide Full Operational Capacity until 1st May 2023, while Bristow stated that they can meet the 1st July 2022 deadline. The penalty against NHV in the tender assessment for this was sufficient in monetary terms that the only way they could overturn the decision was to claim that Bristow was either bidding to provide SAR cover with just one helicopter, or that they would be operating from just one base. As both operators were looking at two bases (and thus 2+ helicopters), that reduced the options to looking at whether each base was “valid”. The primary base will continue to be Den Helder – widely used for North Sea helicopter support – and thus consideration focused on Bristow’s second base proposal of Midden-Zeeland.

NHV claimed that the operating restrictions, in terms of number of flights, precluded use of this grass-runway airfield. There is currently a maximum of 800 movements per annum, a maximum of 60 night flights within the 800, and a max aircraft weight of 6000kg allowed at Midden-Zeeland. NHV claimed that 650 of the 800 movements are already spoken for, and we note that NHV operate some of these themselves with an H145 based there on a wind farm support contract. Additionally, Bristow’s tender is for AW189 operations, an aircraft that weighs substantially more than 6000kg.

There is a Draft document in place with a proposal to increase the flights from this airport – which has not yet been validated – and NHV claim that until that time, it is thus not appropriate to agree to Bristow flying from there. The Draft includes the annual movement limit rising from 800 to 3200, primarily for wind farm support, of which NHV estimate 800 will remain for other purposes. While NHV also agrees that police, EMS and SAR flights fall outside the 6000kg limit, some of the required activities under the SAR contract (eg “demo flights”) do not fit these categories and would thus rule out the AW189 as a helicopter type. However, the review noted that there is no requirement in the tender documentation that these “non-SAR” flights be flown from anywhere other than Den Helder, where they would still be within limits.

The second area in which NHV were appealing related to requirement 12 of the POR (the ‘Programme of Requirements for the Search-and-Rescue Helicopter Capacity of the Netherlands Coastguard‘), which looked at the time to reach the 55°00’N 003°03’E point – effectively the northern boundary of the area under SAR coverage. This had to be less than 90 minutes from any operational base. NHV bid with a notice time of 20 minutes, and their appeal suggested a minimum flight time between 82 minutes (NHV report) and 85 minutes (Airbus statement) – giving a minimum of 102-105 minutes. Bristow’s equivalent numbers were 10 minutes notice time and a flight time of 78-80 minutes, thus coming in at/under the 90 minute maximum. NHV claimed that 10 minutes is unachievable, and the appeal review noted “Bristow’s reasoned substantiation” of their figure. In another aspect of these calculations, the DMO referenced a statement from the Netherlands Aerospace Center, which confirms that the flight time from Midden Zeeland Airport to the 55ºN point is a maximum of 80 minutes.

NHV had also claimed that it should have access to the Bristow tender document. The review noted that the DMO is under no obligation to also allow one bidder to see another bidder’s documentation. It was noted that under case law, a contracting authority’s obligation to state reasons does not go so far as to enable tenderers to independently re-evaluate the tenders.

The Justice department has thus rejected NHV’s appeal with the statement “It follows from all the foregoing that NHV’s claim must be dismissed. Now that DMO also intends to definitively award the contract to Bristow”.  As far as we know, no contract is yet signed.  Bristow have not issued a press release about it either.

Bristow is reported by a local website to have bid €158.1 million over ten years, while NHV put a value of €169.7 million in their submission.

For completeness, NHV were proposing a second base at their current site at Pistoolhaven in Rotterdam. No information has been officially released on the numbers of helicopters each operator bid with.

Additionally, there is no direct reference to the helicopter type NHV were proposing. However our assessment of the capacity requirement to rescue 16 people, and the mention of “Airbus” in reviewing the flight time aspect would suggest that NHV were probably bidding with the H175.

Bristow has experience of operating the AW189 on the UK SAR contract, as seen in the image below


As expected, this article has generated a heavy response from our readers and we are thus able to provide the following updates

  • There was an interim contract around 2013 when Bristow operated two S61s on this type of work, and we even wrote about it here. This was after the AB412s stopped, and prior to NHV taking over with the Dauphins from 1st January 2014
  • NHV have confirmed to HeliHub.com that their bid involved three Airbus H175s.

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