Price controls will pose risks to safety and efficiency, says NATS

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The Independent Online

Management and unions at the country's air traffic control centres have united to condemn price capsproposed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the travel industry regulator, warning they pose risks to safety and efficiency.

Management and unions at the country's air traffic control centres have united to condemn price capsproposed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the travel industry regulator, warning they pose risks to safety and efficiency.

The price caps on air traffic control charges, proposed by the CAA in December, could damage service levels and could restrict future increases in air traffic capacity, according to Paul Barron, the chief executive of National Air Traffic Services (NATS).

Mr Barron said implementing the CAA's proposals of a retail price index (RPI) minus "x" formula for charges would involve taking "large risks" with service quality and future capacity which, he said, NATS was not prepared to accept.

"We have worked tirelessly to reduce delays to record low levels whilst handling ever-increasing volumes of traffic. The last thing our customers now want is the risk of spiralling flight delays and capacity constraints," Mr Barron said.

Prospect and the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represent all 5,000 workers at NATS including air traffic controllers, said the CAA's proposals would result in a £100m net reduction in NATS' business plan during the 2006-2011 period affected by the proposals.

David Luxton, Prospect's national secretary, said: "NATS will have to make some swingeing decision on cuts, much of which will be counter-productive and will have implications for industrial relations with air traffic controllers."

Other CAA proposals criticised by the unions include holding back 20 per cent of the NATS capital expenditure programme, equal to £106m, to try to make sure NATS delivers projects on time and on budget, and a doubling of the financial penalties for air traffic delays during the peak period of 4am-10am. The unions said some delays were inevitable in making sure safety levels were maintained and that increasing penalties would result in financial considerations impinging on safety concerns.

Mr Luxton said the presence of NATS' customers - the main airlines, which own 42 per cent of the service - on its board would prove sufficient incentive to make sure NATS delivers capital projects on time and on budget.

"The proposed price controls will undermine plans to modernise the air traffic control infrastructure and will result in crude cost-cutting measures that will seriously threaten good industrial relations," Mr Luxton said.

The CAA believes NATS will benefit from the price caps as this will stimulate more air traffic passing through UK airspace but NATS believes reducing costs further will jeopardise service standards "for years to come".

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