The contest to provide air navigation services at the airport until 2025 represents the largest UK airport to consider handing its air traffic services to a foreign provider so far.
The services to be covered by the contract cover air traffic and approach services below 4,000 feet around the airport; these services are currently provided by NATS.
Gatwick’s airport owners said that following a transition period, DFS will start providing the new services from October 2015 for a ten year period. NATS will retain operations for all air navigation services above 4,000 feet, from its base in Swanwick.
“The decision follows an extensive tender process in which a number of companies were invited to submit proposals. The proposal submitted by DFS was considered superior to submissions from all other contenders,” it said, adding that submissions were assessed across a range of criteria which included safety, innovation, airport management, technical capability, cost, resilience and the ability to accommodate the requirements of a growing airport.
Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, the Chief Executive of DFS said: “With this contract, DFS is making its contribution to advancing the consolidation process in the European air navigation services landscape. We are pleased that the DFS Group has been awarded the contract for Gatwick Airport and are looking forward to providing safe and efficient air traffic control services with the Gatwick tower staff. The staff at Gatwick will transfer to the DFS subsidiary in close dialogue with the employees and their representatives and in keeping with our employee relations traditions.”
Gatwick chief execuitve Stewart Wingate said: “DFS is a company of great standing, operating an extensive network of air traffic control services in Germany. We are very impressed with the company’s technical capabilities, track record and safety standards within its existing operations along with the experience, efficiency and innovation it will bring to Gatwick.
“Gatwick operates the busiest and most efficient single runway airport in the world. Naturally safety comes first in everything that we do. DFS is a well-known and well-respected provider in this industry and across Europe and has demonstrated a forward looking approach to its business which matches our own ambitious plans to grow. We look forward to working with our new partners as we continue to grow and connect Britain to the future.”
Mike Stoller, NATS director of operations, airports, said UK air traffic control was extremely disappointed that the highly competitive bid it had submitted to Gatwick has been unsuccessful. “We have added considerable value to Gatwick in recent years, building it to the point where with 55 movements an hour it significantly out-performs every other single runway airport in the world,” he said.
The successful bid by DFS comes a year after a UK pension fund scored a victory over the German air traffic control agency in the race for a 20% stake in NATS, its British counterpart.
The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), Britain’s second-largest pension plan, secured the stake last year, managing to beat off DFS, even though it is understood to have submitted a higher bid and had given undertakings not to seek control of NATS.
While DFS had been tipped as favourite as it offered the opportunity to deliver big cost savings through the rationalisation of busy European airspace, it is thought that DFS was undermined by opposition from some airlines as well as NATS management.
The Airline Group, which had owned 42 per cent of NATS prior to the sale, ended up choosing USS rather than DFS to buy a portion of its stake which meant that a partial de-facto merger between two of the largest European Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP)s did not happen.
The move by the Airline Group followed a u-turn by the British Government which in 2011 announced it would reduce its 49 per cent stake in order to help reduce the UK´s national debt.
The Airline Group warned that any reduction in the UK Government´s stake would damage the influence that NATS has in the future development of European air traffic control and urged it not to reduce its stake below 25 per cent.
NATS Holdings (formerly National Air Traffic Services) is the main air navigation service provider in the United Kingdom. It provides en-route air traffic control services to flights within the UK Flight Information Regions and theShanwick Oceanic Control Area, and provides air traffic control services to fifteen UK airports and Gibraltar Airport.
The workforce of NATS is mainly made up of Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs), Air Traffic Control Engineers (ATCEs), Air Traffic Services Assistants (ATSAs) and Science Technical Analytical and Research Staff (STARs). Administrative and Support staff make up the remainder of the 4,500 or so staff employed by NATS.
NATS’ en-route business is regulated and operated under licence from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The terms of the licence require NATS to be capable of meeting on a continuous basis any reasonable level of overall demand. They are charged with permitting access to airspace on the part of all users, whilst making the most efficient overall use of airspace.
As a public private partnership the UK government holds 49% and a golden share, with 42% held by the Airline Group, 5% by NATS staff, and 4% by UK airport operator LHR Airports Limited.
NATS is split into two main service provision companies: NATS En-Route PLC (NERL) and NATS Services Ltd (NSL).
- NERL holds the monopoly of civilian en-route air traffic control over the UK and is regulated by the CAA who, for example, determine the charges NERL can make. NERL is funded by charging airlines for the provision of air traffic services.
- NSL competes for contracts in the free market to provide air traffic control at airports in the UK and overseas, as well as providing engineering, technical and education services in fields related to air traffic control.
There are two control locations in the UK operated by NERL:
- London Area Control Centre and London Terminal Control Centre at Swanwick in Hampshire control both upper level en-route traffic across England and Wales up to the Scottish border and low-level traffic around London and South East England, including aircraft making approaches to the main London airports.
- The Prestwick Centre, Ayrshire, is home to the Scottish Area Control Centre (including, since January 2010, the former Manchester Area Control Centre), which controls traffic over Scotland, Northern Ireland, and up to FL285 over the northern half of England, and the Prestwick Oceanic Area Control Centre which provides aprocedural control service for traffic crossing the North Atlantic via the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area.
Worries that German air traffic control might buy up large share in NATS