UK transport minister Robert Goodwill has officially opened the new coastguard search and rescue (SAR) helicopter base at Prestwick Airport.

The service covering west Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland will be operated on behalf of the UK Coastguard by Bristow Helicopters.

The base, home to two Sikorsky S92 aircraft, is part of the 10-year contract awarded to Bristow by the Department for Transport in 2013 to carry out search and rescue, previously the responsibility of the Royal Navy.

Prestwick is the fourth SAR helicopter base in Scotland, with the others in Inverness, Stornoway and Sumburgh.

It is led by Captain Craig Sweeney, a former Sea King pilot with the Royal Navy's HMS Gannet Search and Rescue service, and will begin operations in January.

Mr Sweeney said: "The whole team here at Prestwick feels very privileged to be involved in delivering this vital public service.

"It is a particular honour for me personally to provide this service to my local community - Prestwick is very much home for me and my family.

"We are very fortunate to have the S92, which is an excellent aircraft with a strong track record of successful SAR operations across the UK."

Mr Goodwill said: "The brand new state-of-the-art helicopters flying from here will be on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to reach those in need.

"Our investment has provided helicopters that can fly further and faster than the previous service and shows our commitment to helping keep Scotland safe."

Samantha Willenbacher, director of UK Search and Rescue at Bristow Helicopters, said: "It is an honour to have been chosen to deliver this vital service and I am extremely proud of all of my colleagues who have worked tirelessly to help us reach this point."

Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "HMS Gannet SAR Flight has set the bar incredibly high and I would like to thank them for their service and recognise the outstanding work they have done both at sea and inland over many decades.

"We will take their legacy forward with the utmost pride and care."