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 million 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 planned course.
Ross Hawkins - Sunday Business
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