Likely sale of UK air traffic control riles Airline Group


A consortium of carriers said on Sunday that airlines do not want UK government to reduce its dominant stake in the country’s air-traffic control system below 25 percent

Reuters reports that the government is considering reducing its 49 percent stake in the air-traffic control system NATS as part of measures to pay off Britain’s ballooning public debt.

But the Airline Group, a consortium of airlines which owns 42 percent of NATS, said a reduced government stake would weaken national influence over European Union air traffic policy.

“The main point is that the 25 percent minimum government shareholding is on the basis that NATS needs to have a high degree of influence in Europe,” Airline Group Chairman Peter Read told Reuters.

According to Reuters, in a letter to transport minister Philip Hammond, Read said reducing NATS’ weight in Europe would free France, Germany and Spain to decide the future of the air traffic control industry, and would be highly damaging.

A Department for Transport spokesman said the government was still weighing alternatives to a sale. “We haven’t taken any decision to sell and we are reviewing the options,” he said.

The government will decide whether to proceed with a sale by the time of its budget, set for March 23.

The Observer newspaper said potential bidders for the stake included British services company Serco (SRP.L), the owner of London’s Gatwick airport Global Infrastructure Partners and U.S. defence company Lockheed Martin (LMT.N).

Airlines which own a stake in NATS include British Airways BAY.L, Virgin, Lufthansa (LHAG.DE)-owned bmi, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook (TCG.L) and Tui Travel (TT.L).