Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Archive
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 16:27 GMT


UK Politics

Selling-off the skies

The air traffic controllers union is opposed to privatisation

By Transport Correspondent Tom Heap

The sell-off of air traffic control is the most unpopular measure of the transport bill for Labour MPs. It is also opposed by a majority of public opinion. Why is the government so devoted to the idea and what has inflamed opposition in parliament and in the country?

The plan

The government will sell a 51% stake in the National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS). Employees will get 5% of the total shares. The government will also hold a golden share to protect key rights such as state security. Safety regulation will be separated from NATS and will remain in public hands as part of the Civil Aviation Authority. The government claims this invalidates the argument that the new arrangements will put profits before safety.

The justification

NATS needs around £100m of investment every year to pay for technological development. The treasury do not want this borrowing on the governments books. They do want to get the money from the sale which has been ringfenced for transport spending. The government also claim that NATS would be in a much stronger position to expand into running air traffic control in other countries if it were free of government control.

The opposition

The heart of Labour's rank and file doesn't warm to any privatisation. But prior to the election their shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Smith, said, "Our air is not for sale."

Gavin Strang, once the transport minister who first announced the sell-off, is now vehemently against it. He led 130 labour MPs in signing a motion opposing the sale.

The transport select committee has also come out against the sale. Most vocal are the air traffic controllers union who have always maintained that safety would be undermined by a private company being in control.

The pilots union also doesn't want it. Privatisation of NATS is a Conservative policy but it is likely that they will vote against the sell off if it makes trouble for the government. The public wants air traffic control to be an absolute certainty which they never have to worry about.

Flying is a scarey business, especially as the skies get busier. The safety record to date has been extremely good and most people are unaware of future pressures - so the view is 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'.

Post-Paddington

Since the crash and the furore over the whether privatisation is partly to blame, the opponents of the sell off have redoubled their efforts to bury the bill.

The unions accused the government of trying to set up a "Railtrack of the skies". This angered Transport SecretaryJohn Prescott who felt that they were using the fears generated by Paddington for their own political ends.

He appears to have been unshaken by the impact of the rail disaster believing that if the sell off was a good idea before it remains the best option today.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


UK Politics Contents

A-Z of Parliament
Talking Politics
Vote 2001

Relevant Stories

17 Nov 99†|†Scotland
Queen details air sell-off plans

11 Oct 99†|†UK Politics
Pilots call for talks on NATS sell-off

09 Oct 99†|†UK Politics
Air traffic sell-off 'in doubt after crash'

27 Jul 99†|†UK Politics
Air traffic sale takes off

27 Jul 99†|†UK
Head to head: Air traffic control





Internet Links


DETR

National Air Traffic Services

IPMS union

Aviation Safety Network


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Livingstone hits back

Catholic monarchy ban 'to continue'

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Straw on trial over jury reform

Blairs' surprise over baby

Conceived by a spin doctor?

Baby cynics question timing

Blair in new attack on Livingstone

Week in Westminster

Chris Smith answers your questions

Reid quits PR job

Children take over the Assembly

Two sword lengths

Industry misses new trains target