Air Transport World

Blueprint for Europe's ATC?(United Kingdom considers privatizing air traffic control)

The British government wants to part-privatize NATS but the opposition is fierce

Great Britain was the first European country to privatize its national carrier and the first to privatize its airport authority. It now wants to repeat its success stories with the privatization, although only partially, of its National Air Traffic Services.

The airline industry applauds the initiative. "Governments should get out of ATC," says AEA Secretary General Karl-Heinz Neumeister. "The actual delay rate in the European skies proves that they are not competent in the matter." IATA's five-point action plan for the new millennium includes the liberalization of the provision of air traffic services through commercialization, privatization or corporation.

So will Britain produce another textbook case in the European aviation sector? Not without a battle, it seems.

The plan to privatize NATS is certainly not a new one. Back in 1994 it was put on the political agenda by the Conservative government of John Major. The Labor party was opposed, screaming slogans such as "Britain's air is not for sale."

As it goes in politics, it is now the Labor government pressing ahead with the partial privatization of NATS. The Transport Bill, brought before parliament by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Dec. 1, foresees a 51% selloff of NATS to the private sector, of which 5% would go to NATS employees. The government would keep a minority shareholding of 49%. Thus NATS would become a PPP, or Public Private Partnership.

Currently NATS is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Civil Aviation Authority, a public sector enterprise. …

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