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Sir Michael Bishop, Chairman of British Midland
"Together with the airline industry we can hugely improve the performance of this industry"
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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Airlines bid to run UK traffic control
Heathrow air traffic control system
Ground control to DETR: Bidders have shown their cards
The privatisation of Britain's national air traffic control system is getting under way as a number of bidders register their interest with the government.

The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions said a "substantial" number of bids had been received to participate in the part-privatisation of the National Air Traffic Services (Nats), in which a 46% stake will be sold off.

A DETR spokesman said the bids were being evaluated and would go through several stages, with the final decision not expected until late March 2001.

The sale is politically sensitive, with many Members of Parliament fearing that it could compromise safety in the skies.


One consortium has made public its plan to bid for Nats. A consortium of eight British airlines, which pulls together fierce rivals like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Easyjet and British Midland, said it would be placing a bid.

It says safety will be one of its top priorities.

Last July, the government announced that it wanted to privatise 51% of Nats. It now plans to sell 46% and give 5% to staff.

It hopes that its plans will improve safety and secure investment of 1bn, but so far it has had trouble convincing its own backbenchers.

In May, legislation authorising the sale sparked one of the government's biggest backbench revolts since Prime Minister Tony Blair came to power.

Safety first

Consortium spokesman Paul Moore said its members had a clear interest in ensuring safety in the skies.

"For us as airlines, the commercial value is the improvements in safety and in capacity and in efficiency. Those are very real commercial benefits," he said.

"Unlike other bidders whose primary objective will be to make a return on their investment, the group's core objective is to ensure that Nats gets the investment it needs to provide world-beating, safe, air traffic control services, " he said.

The eight-airline group comprises British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Easyjet, Airtours, Britannia, British Midland, Monarch and JMC.

If successful, it would be joined by BT as its technology partner and the Irish Aviation Authority, which would provide air-traffic management expertise.

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Lift off for air traffic control
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