UKair-traffic controllers are seeking to take legal action against moves by their employer, National Air Traffic Services (NATS), to head off a potentially crippling drain of staff by preventing its employees getting new jobs at Eurocontrol.

Eurocontrol advertised for controllers throughout Europe early this year and received up to 50 applications from NATS staff, representing around 10% of the UK agency's controllers. Although many of the UK applications were thought to be "protest applications" by disgruntled NATS controllers, some 25-30 were interviewed by Eurocontrol, which has its administrative base in Brussels and its control centre in Maastricht, in the Netherlands.

This sparked panic at NATS, which is already operating at the limits of its capacity and is under pressure to bring on line its much-delayed new en route centre at Swanwick. Controllers from the main London Area and Terminal Control Centre are due to undergo training for the new centre.

To block a potentially catastrophic drain of staff to Maastricht, NATS chief executive Bill Semple lodged a formal protest with Eurocontrol in August. High-level negotiations followed, which ended with agreement by Eurocontrol to limit to about five the number of NATS controllers to be offered jobs in Maastricht.

Other interviewees from NATS have been told that their failure to secure new posts had stemmed from a "managerial decision" and not from any shortcomings on the part of the applicants. It is understood, however, that this month Eurocontrol formally offered posts to only two NATS applicants.

Source: Flight International