Plans to upgrade a key north Atlantic air traffic control centre are under threat, with the UK's National Air Traffic Services (NATS) suspending its contract with EDS, the software provider for the project. NATS says it is "engaged in discussion as to the best way forward".

The suspended contract is for a major software upgrade to the flight data processing system (FDPS) at NATS' Prestwick, Scotland-based Scottish Oceanic Air Traffic Control Centre. According to the 1997 contract, the upgraded FDPS was to have been operating this year, but had already been rescheduled to 2002 before the suspension.

The upgrade would have allowed the FDPS to handle greater traffic flows. NATS insists the existing FDPS "has plenty of life left in it".

Meanwhile, at the close of bidding on 14 July for a 46% share in NATS, which is being partially privatised, nine bidders had formally expressed an interest.

The seven named bidders are:

• BAE Systems, with part-owned Alenia Marconi Systems;

• Boeing;

• Lockheed Martin, with New Zealand's state-owned air traffic services provider Airways and venture capital group Apax Partners, which have formed Novares;

• Raytheon;

• Thomson-CSF and state-owned air traffic services provider, AirServices Australia;

• the Airline Group, comprising eight UK airlines, including British Airways, British Midland and Virgin Atlantic, with UK telecoms group BT and the Irish Aviation Authority, backed by banks Barclays, Commerzbank and the Bank of Scotland;

• UK facilities management company Serco.

The list is completed by two unidentified bidders, which could include UK power company National Grid, which has long expressed interest in NATS.

The government will keep 49% in NATS and employees 5%.

Source: Flight International