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Sunday, 16 July, 2000, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Air control upgrade halted
air traffic control
It is not clear when the project will be restarted
A 53m project to upgrade the air traffic control system at Prestwick in the west of Scotland has been put on hold indefinitely.

National Air traffic Services (Nats) announced on Sunday that it was suspending the scheme to design new software used to direct air traffic out of the UK and over the Atlantic.

The action has been taken while Nats discusses the new software system with contractors Electronic Data Systems (EDS) which has fallen at least two years behind schedule.

There are no safety issues raised by the suspension

Nats spokeswoman
EDS was at the centre of controversy last week when MPs said the costs of employing the US-based computer giant were spiralling out of control.

The UK Government has a 10-year contract with EDS which has been tasked with redeveloping the way Britain handles its air traffic.

The original deal was 1bn - it has now more than doubled to 2.4bn.

Nats has declined to comment on when work on the Prestwick project would resume.

In a joint statement EDS and Nats said: "Following protracted discussions, work on a project to upgrade the Flight Data Processing System at the Oceanic Area Control Centre at Prestwick has been suspended."

Growth in flights

The system was due to increase the number of flights air traffic controllers can deal with so Nats can keep up with projected growth in flights across air space in the Atlantic, west of Scotland.

It had been scheduled to be in place by this year, but that date slipped to 2002 and there is now uncertainty over when it will be up and running.

Nats pledged the current system used at the Oceanic Area Control Centre in Prestwick would be able to cope with demand until towards the end of the decade.

"There are no safety issues raised by the suspension," said a spokeswoman.

It is the latest delay to hit Nats, whose new control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire, is due to be completed in 2002, six years behind schedule and costing almost twice its original 350m budget.

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