Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 150-159)




  150. Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming. Would you be kind enough to identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Findlay) I am Iain Findlay, national officer for Prospect. Dave Cartey is a controller from Scotland. Andy Mooney is one of our engineers from Swanwick and Laurence King is president of the air traffic controllers' branch and a controller at Manchester.


  151. Did you have something you wanted to say or can we go straight to questions?
  (Mr Findlay) Very briefly. Apologies for lack of a paper earlier. We have sent in a short submission. NATS's finances have been deteriorating very much since they took over, exacerbated by the price they paid for the PPP. There is no doubt it was a high price and we have been hearing about the gearing in there. There has been, since 11 September, a great deterioration in that. The impact has been in every aspect of air traffic control. We have to look again though—and Mr Andrew was mentioning it—and we feel there is a great need to have a fundamental look at the pricing policy and how we can change that and how the charges are levied. It is very important that that is looked at because at the moment NATS relies on the transatlantic traffic to produce 44 per cent of its revenue. That has gone down because the planes used are smaller etc. As far as controllers are concerned, every blip on the screen has to be managed. It is a movement whether or not it is a jumbo, a large plane or a small plane. It has to be managed and controlled. Since we wrote this submission, it has been interesting and we found out, perhaps the same way you did, in today's Times, that NATS has revealed a new alliance with the Irish Aviation Authority to look at some of the issues on airspace. We need to make sure that that is a proper alliance and a fair alliance that does not export skills, experience and expertise. We have only just been made aware so we do not know the full extent of this venture. It is also interesting to note that NATS feel that some of the cost savings they can make are after new technology has been in. If you cut all the engineers, how on earth do you get new technology? We would be interested in finding out how that will happen. Also, it was quite worrying to see that the Civil Aviation Authority as a regulator brought the economic regulator but not the safety regulator. We believe that it should be joined up regulation and the impact on the economics of NATS can come from the safety regulator insisting that things happen there.

  152. Can I ask you about the 21 per cent cutback in the staff by 2006? The Staff Associations were very opposed to SERCO taking a shareholding in NATS. Do you know what level of staff SERCO were proposing in their original deal and was it more or less than the 21 per cent that is now being implemented?
  (Mr Findlay) It was a lot more than 21 per cent, when we met them before the final bids were put in.

  153. Do you think there will be a shortage of controllers or other specialist staff as a result of those staff changes?
  (Mr Findlay) There will not be a shortage of controllers. One of the things that has happened is that controllers' numbers have been kept static or they have tried to increase them but it takes a while to get them through the pipeline. We also have a huge retirement bulge because controllers are all of a certain age now and that bulge is starting to work its way through. Therefore, they have to recruit and retain and train all those controllers just to stand still. Yes, there will be more controllers for the foreseeable future. Everybody talks about new technology coming in that will help controllers and that we will need fewer of them but that is a long way in the future.

  154. You have highlighted the engineers but what about the air traffic assistants who were mentioned?
  (Mr Findlay) Again, that was on the premise that they can do away with paper strips and go to an electronic system. That system has not proved itself as yet and has not yet been through the safety regulator to see whether the safety regulator is happy with some of the proposals.

  155. Do you think that the Airline Group has been a benefit to NATS?
  (Mr Findlay) I do not think they have been a great benefit to NATS because they have had too much of a millstone round their neck in terms of how much they paid for the organisation. It seems to me that what has happened is that NATS have been concentrating on finances and not on the operation for the last nine months at least.

  156. Do you think there are sufficient safeguards built in so that NATS would not give preference to one of the Airline Group in its day to day dealings?
  (Mr Findlay) There are sufficient safeguards that no controller will give any preference to any particular airline.

  157. The advantages are not obvious but you do not feel there is a lack of a control over some of the most obvious perceived difficulties?
  (Mr Findlay) They have not arrived as yet, no.

Mr Donohoe

  158. Do you remain confident that Prestwick will be built?
  (Mr Findlay) I remain confident that ministers have made statements and promises that Prestwick will be built. We had only the other day another announcement that confirmed that Prestwick will go ahead. We have always been worried that at the end of the day they might not build Prestwick. We still have that fear but we have to take the word of ministers that it will be.

  159. Do you remain opposed to the privatisation of NATS?
  (Mr Findlay) We have learned to live with the fact that the government took a decision that we were opposed to and continue to be opposed to. We believe that air traffic services are a monopoly and should therefore be provided by the state sector in one form or the other. This Committee has seen many forms. Throughout the world there are many forms but they are all in some way, apart from Fiji, state controlled.


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