6 February 2011

Seven of Britain’s leading airlines have warned the Government not to sell their stake in NATS Ltd, the air traffic control (ATC) service, arguing that the system is a key strategic asset not suitable for full privatisation. In a letter obtained by the Observer newspaper, the Airline Group, which has a 42% stake in NATS Ltd, warns of ‘highly damaging’ consequences if the Government sells its entire 49% stake, an option under consideration by Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond.

 The Airline Group – British Airways, Virgin, BMI, EasyJet, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook and Tui Travel – said in the letter to Mr Hammond that it would sell its interest if the Government failed to retain a shareholding of at least 25%. Peter Read, the group’s Chairman, said a Government sell-out would risk relegating Britain to the status of a bit-player in discussions over reforms of European air traffic control.

 He said: “It would be highly damaging if we were left on the sidelines to watch while others, notably France, Germany and Spain, decided the future of the air traffic control industry. The evidence indicates a real risk that such an outcome would occur if the UK was the only country without a Government shareholding in its national ATC company. The country’s interests would be best served if the Government were to retain a significant shareholding, 25% as a minimum.”

 A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: “The DfT remains in discussions with the Treasury over NATS and no announcement will be made until the budget next month.”