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Sale plan raises air safety fears

AIR traffic controllers warned yesterday that plans to privatise the service would jeopardise passenger safety, writes Christian Wolmar.

Responding to a government consultation paper outlining plans to privatise National Air Traffic Services, unions representing controllers argue that pressure to cut costs will lead to longer hours and lower safety standards.

They are meeting John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, today to ask him to reconsider privatisation plans. The consultation period ends this month and legislation is likely to be in the Queen's Speech in November for a sale late next year or early in 1996.

Joe Magee, the aviation officer for IPMS, representing 4,000 workers, criticised the plan to award a contract to a private body: 'Such a contract will force NATS to make productivity gains to satisfy demands for profits. This can only mean reductions in staffing levels and cuts in equipment and training.'

Unions also said there could be conflicts of interest involving companies who bought shares in NATS, such as airlines, which would want priority for their services.