Memorandum by The Guild of Air Traffic
Control Officers (NATS 04)
NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES
The Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers is
responding to the request for written evidence from the Transport
Sub-committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs
Committee regarding the National Air Traffic Services.
The Guild has a membership of over 2,000 United
Kingdom air traffic controllers of whom 50 per cent are employed
by the National Air Traffic Services. The Guild is not a trade
union and has no political affiliation.
Before responding to the particular areas mentioned
in the request for written evidence, the Guild wishes to re-emphasise
its opposition to the Government's proposal for the Public-Private
Partnership for the National Air Traffic Services.
It is important to state that GATCO is not opposed
to the concept of privatisation, some of our members actually
being employed in the private sector, but it is the specific form
of "privatisation" of NATS to which we object.
The Guild continues to believe that the proposal
based on a public private partnership is untried and unproven
and is therefore not acceptable for the safety critical air traffic
control industry. The involvement of shareholders with their natural
expectation for a return on their investment is seen as inappropriate.
The Guild is concerned that other methods of
achieving the required level of financing have been ignored by
the Government without adequate answers being forthcoming. GATCO
urges that the National Air Traffic Services be converted into
an Independent Publicly Owned Company or a Public Trust wholly
under Government ownership and control. We draw attention to the
"corporatised" national air traffic control models operating
in Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
The examples given by the Guild of alternative
funding are real and not untried and untested, like those proposed
by the Government. The Guild finds it totally unacceptable that
such alternatives are being ignored in favour of a trade sale
with shareholders involvement.
With the requirement of a financial return being
fundamental, GATCO is concerned what effect this will have on
areas of air traffic services currently undertaken by NATS on
a non-profit basis. Will these be discontinued and if correct,
what effect will this have on safety?
Outside of NATS, one private operating company
of a major ATSU publicly announced its lack of enthusiasm for
expenditure that was not income generating and only undertook
the necessary investment in its ATC facility following the intervention
of the Safety Regulator.
The Guild is also concerned with respect to
the future of applied research and development in United Kingdom
air traffic control. NATS has placed itself as the UK's prime
source of expertise in advanced controller tool development, and
therefore in capacity increase techniques. It has, along with
the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), secured itself
as one of the two perennial UK participants in Global ATM developments
and as a frequent partner and risk sharer in European programmes.
It also functions as a specialist representative on behalf of
the UK at many international events in a pseudo diplomatic role.
Our concern is that NATS, as a private company,
might no longer be able (nor may wish) to perform these roles.
NATS may not always wish to share either risk or information with
some other service and system providers in a co-operative partnership.
When operating as a truly independent commercial entity, NATS
will need a much greater degree of commercial confidentiality
in its operations.
NATS Research and Development Organisation is
currently the only resource within the UK with the integrated
ability of simulation, demonstration, consultation, evaluation
and training at the operational and user level. NATS Infrastructure
Organisation has allied roles to play in the field of communications,
navigation and surveillance. Some privatisations in other ATC
organisations have been quite savage in their commitment to abolish
either in part, or totally, any cost overhead which is in addition
to the day to day operational task.
Given NATS established role as the UK's ATM
expert, the Guild is concerned that privatisation will eradicate
some or all of what we would consider to be essential development
capability within NATS, the loss of which could have serious implications
for the UK's ATM capabilities in the future.
NATS currently has a Safety Management System
(SMS), whose level is considerably higher than that required by
the Safety Regulator. While still remaining at or above the minimum
mandated requirement, will this level be allowed to fall with
the effect of reducing costs and increasing shareholders' returns?
Much of the success of NATS in the past has
stemmed from the close relationships that existed between the
civil and military in the joint partnership. A "privatised"
NATS would make civil/military co-ordination more difficult to
achieve particularly when dealing with flexible airspace. It remains
in the national interests of security and aviation safety that
the current military/civil partnership remains in being and is
not separated as a result of privatisation.
To summarise, GATCO believes that the proposed
public-private partnership for NATS is fundamentally flawed in
its present form.
We now comment on the specific areas mentioned
by the Transport Sub-committee.
The Guild is concerned about reports regarding
availability of air traffic controllers in the numbers required
to meet the operational requirement of Swanwick. If Swanwick were
to open with less than the numbers required, the Guild would need
assurances that safety would not be compromised.
The Guild is concerned that the Operational
Conversion Training (OCT) required by air traffic controllers
before the opening of Swanwick, will result in a shortfall of
controllers of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent at the London
Air Traffic Control Centre (LATCC), with significant flow control
measures being necessary. With air traffic movements increasing
at 7 per cent per annum this will undoubtedly place an increasing
workload and associated stress on the air traffic controllers
The Guild has expressed concern about the system
failures at the London Air Traffic Control Centre (LATCC) this
summer. The Guild believes that the National Air Traffic Services
conducted its own inquiry into the failures and a report was produced.
The Guild believes that safety was compromised
by the system failures.
The Guild compliments the controllers and support
staff involved for their skill when confronted with such failures.
In summary, the Guild is concerned about a number
of areas involving the National Air Traffic Services and will
concentrate its comments on those aspects involving safety.
The Guild will be very willing to provide oral
evidence to the Transport Sub-committee when appropriate.