compassion, collaboration & cooperation iN transistion
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. While 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
Ross Hawkins - Sunday Business
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