One industry source said: “It would not be a good idea to hand control of Britain’s skies to Berlin.
“This is what is making the Treasury nervous. All the signs are that the Government is not now going to go ahead with the sell-off of its share.”
In 2010, the Government indicated it was prepared to sell off all or part of its golden share in Nats – which has two centres, at Prestwick in Ayrshire and Swanwick near Southampton – following on from the decision by the previous Labour administration to sell a 51% stake to airlines and BAA, the airport operator.
Yesterday, Maria Eagle, the Shadow Transport Secretary, accused Prime Minister David Cameron of presiding over “yet another U-turn from a shambolic Government”.
“It is incredible that ministers have until now ignored our warnings that a foreign government would be the most likely buyer if a controlling stake in Britain’s airspace was put on the market,” she declared.
“This sell-off would have delivered no benefits to the aviation industry, passengers or the taxpayer.”
The Airline Group has previously warned of “highly damaging” consequences such as threats to safety if the UK Government sold off its controlling stake.
A Treasury spokesman declined to comment because the matter involved “commercial issues”.
Older news on the sale of NATS:
Government plans sale of NATS
The FT reports that the government is set to announce next week that it will auction part of its stake in the UK’s air traffic controller – a sale that would raise about £250m. and that 7 airlines, calling themselves the Airline Group, that own 42% of NATS are now willing to reduce their stake to 18 to 20%. They want the government, that currently owns 49% of NATS to own at least 25%. BAA may sell the 4% it owns. The BAA 4% could be used to push the stake being offered for sale above 50%.The airlines have said they would veto any sale of a majority stake to a buyer whose interests were “not aligned with those of Nats’ core business.” Several infrastructure investors have apparently expressed interest in buying a controlling stake in NATS. The government is keen to retain influence over what it sees as a strategically important body.
21st March 2012 (Financial Times)
The government is set to announce next week that it will auction part of its stake in the UK’s air traffic controller – a sale that would raise about £250m for the Treasury and underscore David Cameron’s commitment to opening up more infrastructure to private investment.
The UK’s 49 per cent holding in National Air Traffic Services (Nats) has been targeted for disposal since the summer of 2010. But talks over the past six months between government departments and other shareholders have struggled to settle details of a sale.
Full FT article at
Air traffic union warns against sale of controlling stake in NATS
16 Mar 2012 (Prospect)
Any sale of a controlling stake in the UK air navigation service provider NATS will lead to greater instability and undermine its significant achievements in safety, service delivery and capacity, Prospect has warned.
The caution comes in advance of next week’s budget, and amid growing media speculation following investment bank Rothschild’s appointment as adviser to the Airline Group, that the government and the Airline Group are set to announce a sell-off of its controlling stake in NATS.
Garry Graham, Prospect national secretary for aviation said: “We have been consistent in arguing the need for the government to remain a key shareholder within NATS. Air traffic control is a vital part of the UK’s infrastructure. A safe, efficient and effective air traffic control system is of crucial importance not only to the UK economy but also to every member of the travelling public.
“Not one argument has been put to us as to how or why a sell-off would be in the interests of air traffic management service delivery or the public. NATS receives no public subsidy, is a net contributor to the Exchequer and provides an invaluable public service.
“We are concerned that the drive to sell a controlling stake is driven by a short-term and short-sighted desire to raise cash, as opposed to a strategic and long-term view as to what is in the best interests of safe and sustainable air traffic service provision.”
Graham said any action by the government to radically reduce its 49% holding is likely to trigger a similar response from the Airline Group, opening the door to an outside buyer at a time when it is vital the UK has an authoritative voice in Europe to shape the future of air traffic management service provision.
“It could lead to greater instability with a drive for profits and dividends undermining the very significant strides which have been achieved in relation to safety, service delivery and increases in capacity,” said Graham.
Airlines hire Rothschild to sell off NATS
A GROUP of seven airlines, under umbrella company The Airline Group, has hired Rothschild to protect its stake in the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) during the government’s sale of its 48.9 per cent share.
The deal, which could earn the state £1bn, was announced by chancellor George Osborne last year and is expected to be announced in the next few months.
The new investor will own a controlling stake in the air traffic controller as the government and the Airline Group, which holds 42 per cent, sell down to about 20 per cent each.
The Airline Group includes British Airways, BMI, EasyJet, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic, while airport operator BAA owns four per cent.
NATS controls nearly all flights through British airspace and entered into the current public-private partnership in 2001.
Older news items about the NATS sale:
Budget 2011: Government to reduce stake in Nats air traffic control business