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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Safety fears raised on air sell-off
Plane leaving Heathrow
Unions fear air safety will be compromised
Ministers are being urged to re-think plans to partially privatise air traffic control after a leaked report warned that the proposals could lead to serious safety risks.

Unions said the internal National Air Traffic Services (Nats) document confirmed their fears that safety would be compromised by the scheme.

The document - which Nats said was genuine - said proposals from the Civil Aviation Authority for its future following a sell-off were "totally inappropriate".

The CAA has been asked by ministers to advise Nats on the charges it could impose on airlines after it leaves the public sector.

According to the document, the CAA proposes "significant initial and subsequent" cost reductions to Nats of between 21% and 35% by the fifth year after privatisation.

'Very serious risks'

It also suggests the regulatory body wants to see Nats make corresponding levels of "operating cost efficiencies".

The document warns Nats could not accept the proposals which would "pose very serious risks to the delivery of services to Nats customers".

The Daily Telegraph reports that the Nats managers particularly objected to assumptions that large cuts in staff levels could easily be achieved.

"We are not a standard utility. The safety in the air traffic control industry is undoubtably of a different order of importance," the document is quoted as saying.

'Weakly founded judgements'

"One simple distinction is that manning levels are absolutely critical to safety and service delivery.

"Efficiency savings must not jeopardise the basic service obligations," it says.

The Nats report also accuses the CAA of making "weakly founded judgments" about efficiency levels, and for putting forward plans "completely divorced from the impact on service".

Under the Transport Bill currently before Parliament, a majority stake in Nats will be sold off to a private partner and staff.

The government claims the sell-off will pave the way for huge investment to cope with rising air traffic levels.


Air traffic controller
Nats document: "Manning levels critical"
But Paul Noon, general secretary of the union that represents air traffic controllers, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, said the proposals in the document would lead to capital investment being cut, not increased.

Even Nats acknowledged that the cuts would have an impact on safety, he said.

"These proposals would be devastating to Nats and dangerous to travellers if they were ever put into effect," he said.

A spokesman for Nats confirmed the report was genuine, but stressed it was a response to a consultation.

"Our report is very much a preliminary document. Nats is never going to put price cuts before safety," he said.

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See also:

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Revolution in the air
18 Feb 00 | Scotland
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Selling-off the skies
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