Britain's search and rescue helicopter services, whose pilots include Prince William, will be sold to United States-based Bristow Group in a £1.6 billion deal that ends 70 years of military involvement in saving lives at sea and on land.

The Department for Transport on Tuesday said that handing the contract to Bristow, which already provides some services, would cut response times by four minutes to an average 19 minutes and increase the high-risk areas reachable within 30 minutes.

Bristow Helicopters Business Development Director Peter Gay said he and his company were very happy.

"It's great; we're back in search and rescue where we wanted to be. The first step for us was the award of the Gap SAR contract only just recently, and as I say we're only just about to start that, and this is the next step on for us, which takes us through to 2026, so great news," he said.

Bristow recently also won the UK Gap Search and Rescue (SAR) contract for Northern Scotland.

Under the new contract, 22 helicopters, comprising 10 Sikorsky S92s and 10 Agusta Westland AW189s, will operate from 10 locations around Britain when the new service is fully operational in 2017.

The Royal Air Force And Royal Navy Sea King helicopters had been in operation for nearly 40 years, the government said, and the time had come for a change in aircraft.

Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that existing military aircrew, including Queen Elizabeth's grandson Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, are likely to be redeployed elsewhere.

Prince William, who became a fully operational Sea King helicopter pilot in 2010 and currently works at a base in north Wales, was due to end his search-and-rescue tour in 2013.

Presented by Adam Justice