Prospect responds to Civil Aviation Authority announcement of public enquiry in air traffic failure

aeroplaneProspect has said the government has lost control of what is happening at the National Air Traffic Service (NATS).

A computer malfunction on Friday led to more than 40 flights being cancelled at Heathrow Airport , and dozens more flights being delayed across southern England, leading the Civil Aviation Authority to yesterday announce an independent enquiry.

Prospect national secretary Steve Jary said: “The professionalism of our members in dealing with the disruption to ensure that safety remained paramount is to be commended.

“Faced with an unprecedented scenario, our members reacted quickly in the interests of the flying public to activate the procedures designed to manage the skies safely during such failures and to identify and fix the problem as quickly as possible to minimise disruption.

“But this all comes against a backdrop of low morale, redundancies and the imposition of further measures – ironically forced on NATS by the CAA – to drive down costs by 22% over the next five years despite recent record dividend payments.

“Prospect is concerned that the CAA’s dual role – as both safety and economic regulator – results in contradictory pressures. The airlines must take some of the blame too. They are a major shareholder in NATS yet are behind pressure to reduce charges, while demanding increased dividends.

“Safety will not be compromised; but resilience clearly has been.”

Responding to criticisms of NATS’ computer systems, Jary said: “A massive upgrade is planned over next few years as part of the Single European Skies initiative and NATS has no choice but to operate its old systems until the new kit is commissioned.

“Vince Cable appears to have lost command of his brief. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that NATS, under financial pressure, had decided to ‘forego capital investment’ for many years.

“That ‘financial pressure’ comes from the CAA, the airlines and the shareholders. The CAA is the government’s regulator and the government’s 49% shareholding is managed by Mr Cable’s department.

“Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s description of Friday’s problems as ‘completely unacceptable’ is also a bit rich given that Prospect has tried to meet with Mr McLoughlin to raise our concerns over the savings sought by the CAA, but he refused.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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