Air Transport World

Slipping government bonds: U.K. ATC privatization. (air traffic control)

LONDON--With an eye firmly on the benefits beginning to appear from airline liberalization, the unwieldy giant that is European ATC is slowly slipping the bonds that traditionally have kept it tied tightly to government.

Some states out of the 32 that make up the Euro ATC network already have started down the road toward privatization/corporatization. French ATC, although still state-controlled, is permitted to borrow from the commercial banks. Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland have moved away from government restraints, and according to Eurocontrol Director General Yves Lambert, their experience has been "largely positive."

Klaus Formel, president of the German Air Traffic Controllers, Assn., said: "We pay back money where subsidies were paid before. We cut delays extensively and have saved money for the airlines--about Dm150 million ($96 million) a year, saving one aircraft on a route for Lufthansa. And we have solved the problem of two parallel working ATC organizations, civil and military."

But privatized ATC also has a downside. Inevitably, fears that safety standards will be eroded if commercialism becomes king have been raised and airlines fret over the prospect of higher charges.

Although British Airways generally is in favor of a plan by Prime Minister John Major to transfer the National Air Traffic Services to the private sector, its chairman, Sir Colin Marshall, said it "will increase our costs. …

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