AIR TRAFFIC controllers warn that financial crises and staff shortages are creating a 'very real risk' to safety. David Luxton, national secretary of the controllers' Prospect union, wrote to transport secretary Alistair Darling outlining their fears last week. He called for 'immediate government intervention'. It was the New Labour government which privatised National Air Traffic Services (NATS), in breach of a pledge made before the 1997 election.
NATS, now owned by a consortium of airlines, has demanded more and more money from the government, but the service is getting worse. Leaked papers from the Swanick air traffic control centre reveal that this year NATS has already filed double the number of 'overload reports' it made for the whole of 2001.
Controllers make the reports when they believe safety is being compromised because they have too many planes to deal with. There is also a shortage of about 100 controllers. The company's answer is to offer bonuses for working seven hour long overtime shifts. There is only one other privatised air traffic control system in Europe, in Switzerland.
It was responsible for the mid-air collision last month between a cargo plane and a Russian airliner.