Ryanair sinks its teeth into Nats over 'reckless' funding failures

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The Independent Online

Ryanair has launched a blistering attack on National Air Traffic Services, alleging management failures and suggesting the part-privatised company is "recklessly undercapitalised".

Ryanair has launched a blistering attack on National Air Traffic Services, alleging management failures and suggesting the part-privatised company is "recklessly undercapitalised".

The views are contained in a four-page letter sent to the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, in which the low-cost airline calls for Nats' charges to be slashed and penalties for underperformance increased.

The news comes days after the airline, run by Michael O'Leary, took legal action against the airports operator and Nats shareholder BAA over landing charges at Stansted. BAA is countering with its own legal action over non-payment of fees.

Ryanair has been one of the biggest critics of the way Nats was part sold to the Airline Group, whose shareholders include BA, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and BMI. Ryanair was further incensed last year when the Government bailed out Nats after it ran into financial difficulties.

In its letter to the CAA, Ryan-air says: "Users' interests are not represented on the board of Nats. A limited number of airlines have secured CAA approval to require competing airlines to underwrite their investment.

"Nats is knowingly, perhaps recklessly, undercapitalised and shareholders should be required to inject necessary capital at their own risk."

The letter, written by Ryanair's director of flight and ground operations, David O'Brien, goes on to catalogue a series of alleged operational and management failures at Nats. It says: "Nats' failures in the past year stem directly from having the incorrect amount of appropriately licensed staff on shift in a given sector at a particular time. This is due to shortfalls in training, absenteeism, lack of management discipline, restrictive work practices and bad rostering."

A Nats spokesman dismissed the allegations. On the company's operational performance he said: "Despite handling a record 2.1 million flights, Nats has reduced attributable flight delays to an average of less than 45 seconds from 2.7 minutes in 2002."

He pointed to a National Audit Office report into Nats' refinancing, which said that this had put the company on a "robust financial footing".

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