Your editorial ("Jams tomorrow", Flight International, 8-14 January) highlights some of the difficulties that UK air traffic control (ATC) and National Air Traffic Services (NATS) now finds itself in. Just a few months ago, everyone recognised the necessity for urgent and continuous investment in ATC infrastructure. Indeed, the Labour government promoted privatisation of NATS as the route to that investment.
The unions argued the proposed financing structure was inadequate and would leave NATS saddled with huge debt, reliant on bank lending, income restrained from an RPI-X formula and with an unbalanced method of calculating cost recovery from each flight.
The consequences of 11 September have exacerbated the already fragile situation present at the time of privatisation. NATS is now under severe financial pressure, which is being felt throughout the organisation - accelerated job cuts, delayed or postponed investment, engineering reductions and a pensions holiday. Yet when NATS was privatised it was regarded as "one of the best in the world". Surely the UK government cannot allow this to change for the worse. It should consider a rebate of around £300 million ($430 million) on the original distorted NATS sale price of £700-plus million to reduce the debt burden.
In addition, the economic regulator should consider that the drive to cut costs does not necessarily deliver an organisation that is more effective, forward thinking and investment motivated and, therefore, safer.
For the future of air traffic management reform, governments should not consider everything to be bad and in need of upheaval, or that privatisation is the only solution. For now, the US General Accounting Office has the right line - do not delay investment.
Iain FindlayLondon, UK
Source: Flight International