Inquiry into air traffic safety

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THE GOVERNMENT will launch an inquiry into the safety of the nation's air traffic control after accepting the recommendations of a parliamentary select committee.

The announcement yesterday comes less than two weeks after the Government proposed to sell off 51 per cent of National Air Traffic Services (Nats) which runs air traffic control.

The investigation will centre on the computer software problems that have delayed the opening of a pounds 340m state-of-the- art control centre at Swanwick, in Hampshire. The centre was scheduled to open in 1996 - but is not likely to start operating before 2000.

It will also look at the pressure which controllers are under at the existing centre at West Drayton, in Middlesex, which will eventually be replaced at Swanwick. Some controllers have complained that the airspace is so crowded that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a safe separation between aircraft.

The Swanwick centre has the capacity to cope with 40 per cent more traffic in the skies than the West Drayton centre. However, the Government insisted the existing air traffic control centre could cope with demand and there was "no additional risk to the travelling public arising from the delay to the new centre".