As part of last year’s emergency budget the Chancellor announced that the government was looking at options to “divest” itself of its interests in NATS. Indications are that a firm decision is likely to be made in the March budget.
Garry Graham, Prospect’s National Secretary for Aviation, stated: “We have been consistent in warning that this is a route which the UK government should not go down. Air traffic control is a vital part of this country’s infrastructure. A safe, efficient and effective air traffic control system is crucial not only to the UK economy but also to every member of the travelling public.”
Graham said the proposed sale has “nothing to do with supporting a safe and effective air traffic control system”. NATS handles 22m flights a year and, in 2009-10, reduced attributable delays to an all-time low of 4.3 seconds per flight.
Instead the drive for divestment is entirely Treasury and ideologically driven – NATS receives no public subsidy and is in fact a net contributor to the Exchequer, generating £100m in profits last year.
The union, he said, was also aware that the notion of a government sell-off is causing increasing alarm across wider aviation stakeholders and airlines.
“We met with the Secretary of State for Transport after the emergency budget announcement and have sought to have an ongoing dialogue with the Department for Transport and other stakeholders.
Not one argument has been put to us as to why any potential sell-off is in the interests of our members or, crucially, air traffic management service delivery for the UK.
“For the UK to have a credible voice in Europe, and to ensure that safety and service delivery remain absolutely paramount, it is vital that the government retains a significant stake within NATS. We are deeply concerned that full-scale privatisation will lead to a drive for profits and dividends which will undermine the delivery of this crucial service.”