The UK will announce the winner for the £5bn ($8bn) search and rescue helicopter contract, to replace the Royal Air Force’s aging fleet of Sea King helicopters, by the end of January 2010.

The UK MoD and Department for Transport is expected to award the contract either to Soteria or AirKnight.

Soteria, a team comprising Thales, the Royal Bank of Scotland and helicopter operator CHC has plans to use the Sikorsky-developed S92 helicopter for the programme.

Whereas, the AirKnight team, comprising VT Group, Lockheed Martin and British International Helicopters, will use the EADS developed Eurocopter EC225 helicopter for the programme.

Britain, which currently operates 40 Sea King helicopters for coastal and inland search and rescue missions from its 12 bases, will reduce the new fleet of aircraft, since the new ones will be faster and require less maintenance.

RAF’s Sea King helicopters are powered by two Rolls-Royce Gnome turboshaft engines and have a maximum speed of 125kt and a maximum altitude of 10,000ft.

Following the selection of the final bidder, the government will sign the contract with the team by April 2010 so that the team gets enough time to start production in 2012.