MPs doubt wisdom of air-control sale

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Indy Politics
The planned privatisation of air-traffic control suffered a setback yesterday when a Commons committee doubted its necessity and questioned the safety implications.

A report by the Commons Transport Committee suggested the Government should consider converting National Air Traffic Services (NATS) into a profit-making public-sector company rather than selling it off. The MPs suggested that the Government had not properly considered this type of "corporatisation", which had been successful in New Zealand.

At the launch of the report, the committee chairman, Paul Channon, Conservative MP for Southend West, said the main argument adduced by supporters of privatisation was concern over whether the Government would continue to allow the £100m annual investment needed for air traffic control. Mr Channon said: "The budget of the Department of Transport is over £4.5bn. The amount needed for air-traffic control investment is very small in relation to that and surely could always be found."

The committee questioned the proposed safety regime under privatisation. It said the Government "must be certain that any changes it proposes ... ensure that NATS' present high standards of safety are maintained or improved".

NATS is part of the Civil Aviation Authority, which has a safety regulation group to oversee air-traffic control. The committee said it was "uncomfortable" with the proposal that this safety group stay within the CAA under privatisation and recommended that if Government plans proceed, the safety group's work should be transferred to a separate body.

The MPs also said the case "had not been made" for the suggestion to sell off separately the northern and southern parts of NATS services.

The MPs criticised the period of consultation, saying six weeks was "simply not long enough" for people to give their views fully. The Government hoped to legislate for the sell-off in the current parliamentary programme but was delayed by widespread opposition.

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