Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-166)
MR IAIN FINDLAY, MR ANDY MOONEY, MR LAURENCE KING AND MR DAVE CARTEY
WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2002
160. Has there been any impact at all since the PPP was put in place in terms of the safety of the industry?
(Mr Findlay) I do not think we can say there has been any one impact on safety. We have been very concerned that some of the cutbacks that were proposed at some points and will be proposed in some of the engineering cutbacks may well have an impact on safety. We will be very careful and vociferous if we think they will impact on safety.
161. In what areas do you see income accruing within NATS in the foreseeable future?
(Mr Findlay) Unless there is a change in the way charges are levied, it will still be with large aircraft flying. It will still be the Atlantic that will provide the money.
162. There is on the website a business development unit as far as NATS are concerned and it is talking about consultancy, service provision, training and products. Is your trade union in support of that or against that?
(Mr Findlay) We have always supported it. They cut back the business development unit at the very time when we thought they should have expanded it. That was because of some contingencies. People said, "We need to cut the cost base." If you cut the business development unit, I do not see where you can go to find all this extra work and the extra consultancies. We do believe that there is a role for NATS in that because we believe, I think quite rightly, that this is the best air traffic control system in the world and we should be glad to take it elsewhere and show other people how it should be done.
163. On the safety issue in relation to the screens, there has been quite a lot of coverage about it and quite a lot of expressions of concern, directly and directly, from controllers. Can I ask about your perspective on the scale of that problem but also in relation to the changes you have had within the organisation over the past few months? Has anything happened that has exacerbated it or given you greater concern than you would perhaps have otherwise had in the pre-PPP situation?
(Mr Findlay) If I can take that question in two parts, in general terms, I do not think anything has been exacerbated apart from the worry that money would not be forthcoming to put right any problems. If you had not got the cash to do this, it was very difficult to put it right. On the issue of the screens, we have been involved for quite a period of time. As controllers went down to Swanwick to train on the new equipment, some fears were expressed by them and we took those up at the time. We had agreed that the screens would come into use and we would be looking at changes. As far as we are aware, those changes are going to be made. There is no question that resources will not be put into changing these at this point in time.
164. Have you any idea of a timescale for that?
(Mr Findlay) I was amazed that the chief executive did not. My understanding is that they are trialling it this month and it should be in within two to three months. That is the sort of timescale that we would see as acceptable. That is important for us because we believe that there are other issues, apart from the screens. There are some ergonomic issues as well, but all of those are being addressed jointly with the staff.
165. As a trade union group, you have not been frightened to draw attention to some of the shortcomings. Is it going to be possible for you to continue to do that, given the need to keep the company viable?
(Mr Findlay) It is not our job to keep this company viable. The government decided that they were going to sell this company and call it a PPP. They still have a shareholding in it and we have said many times to the government they cannot walk away from their shareholding. (Mr King) From a controllers' and a members of staff point of view, the most important thing is that the reporting mechanisms are kept as open and as honest as possible and there must never be any hint that there would be any form of retribution for people reporting their concerns over system problems, procedural problems or any problems they determine at all. One of the arguments that we had during the anti-PPP campaign was our fear of pressure being put on for people not to report. It must always be the priority not only of the employer but also of the regulator to ensure that all the reporting systems are as open and as free as they possibly can be so that we can identify where we determine any problems in the system.
166. You do not anticipate or have not felt any change since the transfer took place?
(Mr King) I think it is something that we take a very close look at constantly. There are many pressures in the organisation at the moment and many changes taking place because of the effects of 11 September. If we clearly determine that there are changes taking place, then I am sure we will try and identify them.
Chairman: We are very conscious of the fact that yours is a very responsible and important job and we are grateful to you for coming this afternoon. Thank you very much.