Lufthansa's lawyers say there is a case for pursuing legal action against the German Government for its "failure" to provide adequate air traffic services (ATS). The airline has got the right target in its sights, but whether a legal fight with the government is the best way to achieve its aims is questionable.

Under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, to which Germany and 184 other nations are signatories, it is the state which is responsible for ATS provision. States may contract out that provision to a private organisation if they wish, but private ATS provision does not change the fact that the buck stops with the government. In fact, the reluctance of most individual states - even inside the European Union - to remove national borders from the European ATS structure despite the inefficiency that such a structure creates, spotlights the fact that the states want the power, but do not take full responsibility. This is Lufthansa's point.

One danger of a legal argument is that it would probably founder on what constitutes the minimum responsibility of an ATS provider. The answer to that is safety, which DFS, the German air traffic control organisation, provides, and efficiency, which then becomes the point for legal argument. Lufthansa's legal case rests on what the government has failed to do, and points to the resulting delays and inefficiencies. So the issue is, effectively, negligence.

The undeniable nature of government-controlled ATS is that it has its place in the list of political priorities. That makes ATS management reactive. When all is going reasonably well ATS provision is left alone, and things have to go really badly before it moves up the priorities list. If Lufthansa's veiled threat succeeds in pushing ATS up the German Government's priorities list that is a start. The problem then is that Germany is surrounded by the rest of Europe.

Source: Flight International