Manchester air traffic control to close

20.12.2009   (Manchester Evening News)

by Alice McKeegan

MANCHESTER Airport’s air traffic control centre is to close – with 180 staff
forced to move to Scotland.

The centre will close for the final time in the early hours of January 23, with
only skeleton staff remaining in the control tower. This means all air operations
– apart from take-offs and landings – will be controlled from a new £170m centre
in Prestwick, Ayrshire – more than 250 miles away.

Bosses say the tower will remain open but the 35-year-old control centre, based
on the fourth floor, is no longer fit for purpose and they rejected concerns that
passengers’ safety could be put at risk by the upheaval.

The centre, run by air traffic management company NATS, employs 220 staff, mainly
from Greater Manchester and Cheshire. They were given the option of relocating,
redundancy or retirement, with 180 workers – and their families – opting to move
to Scotland.

Safety manager Frank Byatt, 59, from Alsager, Cheshire, has worked at the centre
since it opened in January 1975 and has decided not to relocate. He said: "It
wasn’t right for me to move at my age. I didn’t feel it was the best option for
me or the company so I am going to retire. I’ve seen huge changes over my time
here but I’m most proud of our safety record as Manchester is second to none.
I’m sure it will be a very emotional last day."

Air traffic controllers Vanessa Fahey, 30, and partner Phil Elton, 35, are making
final preparations for their new life in Scotland. They have just sold their house
in Glossop and are on the verge of buying a property near their new workplace.

Vanessa, who has worked in Manchester for four years, said: "It’s a bit of a
wrench to leave Manchester as Phil has family nearby and it’s a lovely place to
live and work but we are both optimistic about the future. The relocation package
was outstanding and the removal company is always at the other end of the phone
so we had no worries on that score. It will be sad to say goodbye to colleagues
but overall it’s an exciting time for us."

Bosses said the closure has been on the cards since the company was part-privatised
a decade ago. The company’s London centre has already shut, leaving Prestwick
and Southampton to control British airspace.

The new Prestwick centre, which has taken five years to build and will employ
more than 800 staff, will cover the largest airspace in Europe.

David Harrison, general manager for air traffic services, said: "We are moving
180 families 250 miles north and that’s not something to be done lightly. We have
put a massive programme of financial and pastoral support in place. For any family,
this is massive and it will be sad to leave the region, but the Manchester centre
has reached the end of its life and we have to move."

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