Air traffic privatisation under review

29 Oct 98
The UK's air traffic control service, National Air Traffic Services, should be given greater commercial freedom, MPs were told this week.

30 October 1998

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Civil Aviation Authority chairman Sir Malcolm Field said NATS should be opened up more to the private sector.

Speaking at a two-hour meeting of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs sub-committee, Sir Malcolm said: 'A business that doesn't expand is not a good business.'

He said NATS should be given greater opportunity to market its business so it can expand. This growth could come through managers being given the chance to act more in line with the private sector, he said.

Labour is committed to a partial privatisation of NATS and plans a 51% sell-off to investors.

But trade unions have argued against it, mainly on the grounds of safety.

Representatives from the Public and Commercial Services union and the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists gave evidence that the air traffic control service was already working at maximum capacity and that privatisation would lead to further safety risks and staff pressures.

Terry Adams of the PCS warned that with the rising volume of air traffic, the working conditions endured by staff this summer could not be repeated in summer 1999.

The trade unions have set up a committee with NATS to seek ways of spreading the load of air traffic, which is growing by 4% a year.

The controversial issue of the Swanwick National En Route Centre, the proposed new air traffic control centre, was also considered by MPs at the meeting. Last week its opening date was put back to 2002 from winter 1999/2000.

Members of the Sub-Committee were concerned that a half-finished air traffic control centre being sold to private investors might be a safety risk. Mr Adams believed that the proposed sell-off was unsuitable for the service: 'If you introduce profit elements, you introduce a dimension other than safety.'

But Bill Semple of NATS said this would not be a problem and safety would be paramount but admitted there could be an increase in delays.


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