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A Quick Word With Bristow Helicopters New Director of UK SAR Russ Torbet

September 01, 2016

As a key member of the UK SAR leadership team since the start of the contract, Bristow Helicopters Limited recently promoted Russell Torbet CBE to director UK SAR, responsible for overseeing the operation of the civilian search and rescue (SAR) service for the UK on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). In this interview, Torbet talks about his new role and how his experience prepared him for this unique task.

Talk about your role at Bristow and what you are currently working on?
As director of UK Search and Rescue (SAR), I am responsible for the delivery of the helicopter SAR service on behalf of the MCA. My span of responsibility extends the length of the UK, from Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands to Newquay in Cornwall.

Having successfully established seven new UK SAR bases over the past 18 months, our focus is now on the final base, Lee-on-Solent near Southampton, which we transition to UK SAR from CHC Helicopter on April 1, 2017. We will also introduce the AW189 into operational service at Lee-on-Solent, then at the four operational bases currently utilising contingency aircraft; namely, Prestwick, Lydd, St Athan and Inverness. We will also bring the GAP SAR bases of Sumburgh and Stornoway into UK SAR on April 1, 2017, and July 1, 2017, respectively.

What is a recent success you're particularly proud of?
I am particularly proud of the successful stand-up from scratch of a UK-wide SAR service, which is drawing accolades from our stakeholder community and the UK government. The launch of service at seven new UK SAR bases was an outstanding team effort and set a very strong foundation on which to build.

What in your background prepared you for this assignment?
With more than 35 years of aviation experience, including command of a fighter squadron, command of a fast-jet main operating base and a number of senior staff appointments in the UK, Germany and Saudi Arabia, I have been exposed to many of the same challenges albeit in a slightly different context. One distinct advantage is having a good understanding of government contracting.

What are some important upcoming UK SAR events or initiatives?
The next major event for UK SAR will be when we start stakeholder training from Lee-on-Solent at the end of the year prior to go-live on April 1, 2017. To get to that point, we need to train the transition team pilots, technical crewmen and engineers in all aspects of AW189 SAR operations. This is already underway at our base in St Athan near Cardiff in South Wales.

What was the greatest lesson you learned from a colleague?
With more than 30 years in the military and seven years civilian experience, I have learned many lessons at all stages of my career, which means you are never too old to learn!

Perhaps the greatest lesson is to recognise and use the capabilities of your team.

The military has an expression "Mission Command" whereby the commander or leader establishes the tactical, operational or strategic goal he wants his team to achieve, but does not proscribe how they are to do it. It is about empowerment; people are free to express their ideas and solutions without being channelled down a particular route. This often results in a number of courses of action from which the leader can choose the most appropriate.

How does your time with Bristow compare to your military experience?
In both organisations, people are the greatest asset. Both have dedicated and talented professionals working as a team to achieve the goals or tasks asked of them. This teamwork strengthens them and the organisation to meet the daily challenges, which in the current climate are many and varied.