Gavin Strang MP addressed a meeting at Labour Party Conference at 1pm today, 29 September, in the Bloomsbury Room of the Roundhouse Hotel, 1 Meyrick Road, East Cliffe, Bournemouth.
Speaking at that meeting, Gavin Strang MP said:
‘There are four reasons why the Government should reconsider its plans to privatise air traffic control.
‘Firstly, when it comes to managing our increasingly crowded skies, safety should be the overriding criterion against which all policies are judged.
‘But the privatisation of air traffic control was not put forward in order to make our air traffic management safer. It was put on the political agenda last July as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, and was considered attractive for financial reasons. I am afraid people will simply not believe that privatisation is the best way to ensure that our air traffic controllers can keep our skies as safe as possible.
‘Secondly, privatisation raises important questions of national security.
‘NATS has a vital role in protecting our national security – on a day-to-day basis, and in cases of national emergency. The RAF has to be able to use our airspace. NATS and the Ministry of Defence currently work very closely and very well together to manage this airspace on a daily basis. And in a crisis arising from a grave threat to our national security – such as from the world of global terrorism – it is imperative that the government can seize immediate and unqualified control.
‘It is surely most efficient to handle events with the maximum integration and maximum control that is afforded by controlling affairs from the public sector. Security is undoubtedly one reason why no other government has gone down the route of privatisation – not the US, not New Zealand and no other EU member state.
‘Thirdly, NATS is in the middle of a huge investment programme. When its new systems are in operation they will represent a huge advance in air traffic management. But there are many technical hurdles yet to be overcome. The operational date for the New En Route Centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, has been postponed many times – from 1996 to 2002. In addition there is vital work to be done in getting the New Scottish Centre constructed at Prestwick.
‘NATS’ very ability to do its job depends upon these systems becoming operational. Rather than being entangled in all the work involved in a complex privatisation, NATS’ management time should be focused upon getting this crucial technical work done.
‘And finally, privatisation would not yield the advantages that are claimed for some privatisations – freeing the public purse from a financial drain or introducing competition. NATS is self-financing – indeed it runs with an operating profit – and there is not scope for competition.
‘So what is the best way forward for air traffic control?
‘If the government wishes to obtain early access to private capital for investment in air traffic control, 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.’