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as airline group calls for cost cuts.

THE group of airlines running Britain's air-traffic control network wants to

reduce costs by £60m over the next 18 months, management have told staff.

The carriers, which include British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, BMI British Midland

and Easyjet, want to find £10m of savings before next March and £50m in the

following 12 months. The figures were put before the staff at a series of

presentations by senior managers.

Controllers are becoming increasingly anxious 

that the cutbacks will threaten safety standards.

The airline consortium took a 46% stake in National Air Traffic Services (NATS)

in July in a controversial privatisation. It fought off rival bids led by the US

aerospace company Lockheed Martin and by outsourcing specialist SERCO.

The cost cuts were planned before the terrorist attacks on America. Last week,

NATS announced if would make 226 support and management staff redundant.

Further cuts are widely expected. The anticipated reduction in air travel will hit

NATS income. It has already affected the revenue of the airlines that are now

backing the system. Last week, BA announced that the crisis had cost it £40

so far. Britain's air-traffic control system was widely acknowledged as being

overstretched even before the attacks and faces further pressure next year as

staff are trained to use a new control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire.

The skies over the south-east of England are among the busiest in the world.

At the peak of the summer holiday season, controllers warned that they were

dealing with more traffic than they could safely handle. A spokesman for the

Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, the union which

represents air-traffic controllers, said: "It is very important that none of the

safety issues are cut back in any way whatsoever."

The £700m Swanwick control-centre is not expected to offer an immediate

boost, to air traffic capacity. It will begin service in January, but its capability

will be restricted as staff learn how to use the new facilities. Last month, a

£100m contract to install new systems at an air-traffic control centre in

Prestwick, Scotland, was cancelled. It is still not clear who will take on the work,

although a number of technology contractors are believed to have submitted

bids. The operation has pledged that it will not cut the number of air-traffic

controllers, but many engineers are expected to lose their jobs.

There will also be a move away from the bespoke control system being

installed in Swanwick to "off the shelf" technology. The costs of further

upgrades will be closely monitored following massive overruns in recent

projects. A spokesman for NATS said it would not make any cuts that would

jeopardise safety. Wile NATS cuts costs it is likely to face further pressure

to provide further spending. Expensive satellite-based systems, one of

which is being developed by Boeing, can monitor both the position and

exact direction in which an aircraft is travelling. The technology would let

controllers discover more quickly if an aircraft had deviated from its

planned course.


Ross Hawkins - Sunday Business

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