Lockheed heads bid to build air traffic centre

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The Independent Online
Lockheed Martin, the giant US defence contractor, heads a consortium that became the preferred bidder to build the pounds 230m Scottish air traffic control centre, it was announced yesterday.

Responsible for controlling all air traffic travelling over Scotland and the north of England, the new centre should come into service in 2002 and will replace the one at Prestwick.

The project, being funded under the private finance initiative (PFI), will, the consortium claims, net the private firms pounds 600m over 25 years. The other main member in the Sky Solutions consortium is the Bovis building company.

"The new Scottish centre will increase capacity, enhance efficiency and maintain thehighest standards of safety," said Derek McLauchlan, chief executive of National Air Traffic Services, which let the contract.

The centre is urgently needed to handle the sharp rise in air traffic forecast by the Civil Aviation Authority, the Government's air regulator.

"Over the next 10 years, air traffic is forecast to increase by 30 per cent and up to 50 per cent by the year 2015," Mr McLauchlan said.

Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, will have to approve the deal. It may, however, never be signed.

Nats, the arm of the CAA which serves aircraft in Britain across the Atlantic and half-way across the Channel, was forced to sign the PFI deal to build a new centre.

However, if Nats is sold to the private sector, it has an option to pull out of the contract and build the Prestwick centre itself. It is increasingly likely that Nats will be sold as the pounds 600m it would bring in is urgently required by the Treasury. The Conservatives have declared their intention to privatise the service and Labour has said it cannot be ruled out.

Insiders point out that the cost of using the PFI will mean that the cost of the centre is nearly 200 per cent more than original forecasts.