Air traffic controllers have warned the Government that a war on Iraq could plunge the part-privatisation of the system deeper into crisis.
In a private meeting on Thursday with Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, the controllers' union Prospect said that another £300m of public money was needed to safeguard National Air Traffic Services (Nats).
But Prospect warned the amount needed would be much higher if there was a war. Its national secretary, David Luxton, told Mr Darling that Nats' revenue growth dropped more than 10 per cent in the first month of the 1991 Gulf War, as air travellers postponed flights. The data showed that it took 10 months after the first air strikes for Nats' revenues to recover.
Nats, which is 46 per cent owned by BA, Virgin, easyJet and British Midland, fell into financial difficulties after the 11 September terrorist attacks.
Already, the Government has been forced to dip into its pockets and offer Nats a short-term loan to prevent the business collapsing.
The company's future now rests with the Civil Aviation Authority. Later this month, the regulator will rule whether Nats can scrap planned reductions in its fees. If it says yes, then the airports operator BAA will pump £65m into Nats, to be matched pound-for-pound by the Government.
At the meeting, Mr Luxton also presented the Transport Secretary with a dossier on Nats. An extract reads: "Unless there is an end to the current financial turbulence, we firmly believe that safety will be compromised. This is not scaremongering – it is the experience of the controllers and engineers that we represent."
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