The future of National Air Traffic Services

Gavin Strang said in Westminster today:

‘We shall have to look carefully at the detail of the Government’s announcement and listen to Ministers’ arguments. But it looks as though the Government is going to go ahead with the privatisation of air traffic control in this country. This would be a mistake.

‘The management of NATS should be focused on getting the crucial new centres at Swanwick and Prestwick operational without further delay. Otherwise, NATS will simply be unable to do its job. Management time should not be diverted to constructing elaborate arrangements for the privatisation of this public service.

‘Ministers are of course concerned about safety. But the fact of the matter is that privatisation was not put forward for safety reasons. Privatisation would not earn popular approval for the government. People would not believe that privatisation is the best way to ensure that our air traffic controllers can keep our increasingly crowded skies as safe as possible.

‘Air traffic control is self-financing in this country. To obtain early access to private capital, the government just needs to allow NATS to borrow directly from the markets – as Manchester airport has been allowed to do, and as the Post Office no doubt will do.

‘NATS also has a vital role in protecting our national security. On a daily basis the RAF work in our airspace. In cases of national emergency, such as global terrorism, it is imperative that the government can seize immediate, unqualified control. Security is undoubtedly one reason why no other government in the world has gone down the privatisation route – not the United States, not New Zealand and not any other European Union country.’