BA chief attacks Prescott over 'profits first' air traffic sell-off

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The Independent Online

John Prescott suffered another political blow yesterday when it emerged that British Airways had warned that passengers should be "deeply concerned" at plans to partprivatise UK air traffic control.

John Prescott suffered another political blow yesterday when it emerged that British Airways had warned that passengers should be "deeply concerned" at plans to partprivatise UK air traffic control.

In a speech to industry insiders, Bob Ayling, BA chief executive, said the Deputy Prime Minister's strategy ran the risk of putting profits above all else.

The criticism by Mr Ayling, a New Labour supporter, is the most significant attack yet on the plan to sell 51 per cent of the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) to the private sector.

In an address last month to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Mr Ayling said the Government's policy had "profound implications" and meant that commercial returns would be paramount.

He said: "The flying public and users of the service should be deeply concerned if any future strategic partners did not have as their objectives safety of flight, security of investment and sensible growth for the future." He added: "The strategic partner should not have profit as a primary objective."

BA is involved in a consortium of nine UK airlines which has registered its intention to bid for the equity available to the private sector. They say they intend to establish a non-profit making organisation.

Under Mr Prescott's plans, 49 per cent of NATS equity will be held by the state, with 45 per cent sold to investors and 6 per cent to employees.

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