Airlines oppose sale of air traffic control – report


British airlines do not want the government to reduce its dominant stake in the country’s air-traffic control system below 25 percent, the Observer said on Sunday.

The government is considering reducing its 49 percent stake in the air-traffic control system NATS as part of measures to pay off the ballooning public debt.

But the Airline Group, a consortium of airlines which owns 42 percent of NATS, said in a letter obtained by the Observer that a reduced government stake would weaken national influence over European Union air traffic policy, Reuters reports.
“It would be highly damaging if we were left on the sidelines to watch while others, notably France, Germany and Spain, decided the future of the air traffic control industry,” Airline Group Chairman Peter Read wrote in the letter to Transport Minister Philip Hammond.

Read was not immediately available for comment on Sunday and a Department for Transport spokesman could not confirm the contents of the letter. “We haven’t taken any decision to sell and we are reviewing the options,” the spokesman said.

The government will decide by the time of its March 23 budget whether to sell the stake.

The Observer said potential bidders for the stake included British services company Serco, the owner of London’s Gatwick airport Global Infrastructure Partners and U.S. defence company Lockheed Martin.

Airlines which own a stake in NATS include British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa-owned bmi, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook and Tui Travel.