IT'S NOT only on the railways that privatisation has been a disaster. The computer failure at the new air traffic control centre at Swanwick on Friday of last week meant that the number of flights was cut by half, and tens of thousands of passengers were stranded. This is the third failure of National Air Traffic Services (NATS) computers in three months.
Swanwick was built by private companies and finished six years behind schedule. New Labour sold NATS off to an airline consortium involving British Airways and Virgin last July. It is already in financial crisis because of the effects of 11 September on the airline industry.
It also banked on air traffic increasing by 7 percent rather than the 5 percent long term trend. The government has already agreed a £30 million loan. NATS wants more, and is begging to be able to raise its charges to airline companies.
'The vast majority of the public thought the government's plan to privatise NATS was absolutely crazy,' says Ian MacNeil, a NATS worker from Edinburgh. 'We were assured that the private sector would be able to invest in NATS. But for the bankers it's all a commercial decision. Management's programme means that support staff are to be reduced by 20 percent, engineers are to be cut from 14,000 to 4,000 in eight years, and the new Scottish centre has been put on hold. The vital interest is safety. NATS should be returned to the public sector.'