THE UK CIVIL AVIATION Authority has voiced serious worries about finance for investment in air-traffic-control (ATC) development, despite declaring a trading surplus and showing convincing evidence of increased operational efficiency in its latest annual report.

Success in reducing ATC departure delays - from an average of 20min three years ago, to 4min today - has lowered the CAA's profile, putting the organisation in a "political no-man's-land", the Authority alleges.

Its initially well-received plan to privatise the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has been shelved indefinitely by the UK Parliament; the Treasury has refused funds for new equipment after 1996; and it is not allowed to raise finance on the open market.

CAA chairman Christopher Chataway has consequently declared the CAA's serious concern about the only Government-approved route to funds: the private finance initiative (PFI). Under this system, private companies provide the equipment and premises and NATS rents them.

The lack of alternative financing forced the CAA to finance via the PFI the new Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre and its essential oceanic flight-data processing system - the base for the North Atlantic automatic dependent surveillance system.

The CAA chairman says that he is worried that NATS would ultimately become fragmented, administratively complex, inefficient and slow to update, as a result of the multiple ownership of individual units, which the PFI would bring.

The CAA made an operating surplus in 1994/5 of £6.5 million ($10.4 million) on a turnover of £586.8 million.

Source: Flight International