Ryanair accuses British air traffic control of ‘blatant discrimination’ and complains to EU

The airline says it is making a formal complaint to the European Commission and CAA

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 04 September 2018 15:57
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Ryanair has accused NATS, the British air traffic control service, of “blatant discrimination” against London Stansted Airport and says it is submitting a formal complaint to the European Commission.

Europe’s biggest airline claimed that data published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on 1 June proved Stansted was being discriminated against, while Heathrow and Gatwick were given preferential treatment.

The CAA figures show that Stansted Airport experienced 52 per cent of all ATC delays caused by NATS in the London area between January and March 2018; Heathrow had 0 per cent of NATS delays in that time period and Gatwick had 10 per cent.

Ryanair, whose main UK base is London Stansted, claimed the discrepancy was down to the failure of NATS to supply adequate ATC staffing and airspace resources, saying this had “wreaked havoc this summer” on both Ryanair and London Stansted flight schedules, with 2018 shaping up to be the worst year on record for ATC disruptions at the Essex airport.

“Ryanair and Stansted are clearly being discriminated against by the UK airline owned ATC provider NATS,” said Ryanair COO Peter Bellew. “These disruptions are unfair and unacceptable, and we call on the UK Dept of Transport and the EU Commission to take urgent action to ensure that the UK ATC provider (NATS) is fully staffed and treats each London airport fairly.

“NATS don’t have enough staff. Ryanair is today submitting a formal complaint to the European Commission and the UK CAA over this blatant discrimination against Stansted Airport and Ryanair.”

He added: “The situation is particularly bad at weekends where NATS are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as ‘capacity restrictions’ when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate."

The CAA says it has not yet received a formal complaint.

“As announced in August 2017, following an industry complaint about NATS, we undertook a full investigation using investigatory powers under section 34 of the Transport Act 2000, and no formal breach was found," said a spokesperson. "However, if a new complaint was received we would consider how to respond accordingly.”

The CAA report shows that Stansted had the highest percentage of ATC related delays caused by NATS, followed by Luton (30 per cent), Gatwick (10 per cent), City (8 per cent) and Heathrow (0 per cent).

However, NATS roundly denies discriminating against any airport or airline.

A NATS spokesperson said: “Ryanair performance this summer cannot be blamed on UK air traffic control.

“The figures Ryanair quote from the beginning of the year coincide with the introduction of new technology that affected the number of flights in and out of Stansted during that period. Luton airport was similarly affected at that time and other airports were affected at other times over a seven-month period.

“All airlines and airports were notified of the timetable in advance and understood the new technology will help us increase capacity safely in the future.”

NATS says that Ryanair made similar accusations in 2016, which were investigated by the CAA – the final report found no evidence that NATS “unduly preferred or discriminated against any party”.

The spokesperson added: “Adding extra controllers to the Essex airspace will not make a difference. Additional aircraft cannot fly in that area safely without redesigning the airspace which requires consultation with those affected on the ground.”

Ryanair’s complaint comes as the low-cost airline announced its traffic figures for August 2018. Despite cancelling almost 550 flights, up from just 27 cancellations in August the previous year, passenger numbers grew 9 per cent to 13.8 million.

Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs said: “Regrettably, over 100,000 Ryanair customers had their flights cancelled in August because of repeated ATC staff shortages in the UK, Germany and France, and one day of unnecessary pilot strikes.

“Ryanair, together with other European airlines, calls for urgent action by the EU Commission and Governments to correct these ATC staff shortages which are disrupting the travel plans of millions of Europe’s consumers this summer.”

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