The operator of air traffic control in Britain has been told that it can raise its charges by 36 per cent over the next four years as it tries to sort out its problems after a troubled post-Covid period.
The part-privatised National Air Traffic Services has been blighted by staff shortages since the end of the pandemic and is at the centre of an inquiry after IT failures grounded flights over the August bank holiday.
NATS has been told by the Civil Aviation Authority that it can increase its charges through to 2027 by an average of 36 per cent, which includes the impact of inflation. It means that on each flight in British airspace, airlines will be charged an average of £2.08 per passenger, a fee that routinely gets passed on through the air fare.
In its final determination of future charges, the regulator appeared to imply that NATS had been underfunded and that had affected its performance.
“Our decision will provide the resources and investment required for Nats to provide a resilient, high-quality service for passengers and modernise its services, while recovering costs from the pandemic,” Andrew Walker, the authority’s chief economist, said. “Implementing targets around performance, efficiency and environmental impact will help to deliver an improved airspace system that will benefit everyone.”
NATS is 49 per cent-owned by the taxpayer, with the rest held in blocs by private shareholders including British Airways, easyJet, Heathrow and other entities including the academics’ pension fund and Nats employees. Last year it made profits of £148 million on revenues of £930 million.
The CAA said the price determination had not been affected by the bank holiday disruption but that it would “consider any further regulatory steps as appropriate” when the inquiry’s report was published in the new year.
Ryanair, which claims to be Nats’ largest customer, contributing fees of €100 million a year, described the increase in charges as a reward for repeated failures and it called on the CAA to reverse “this illogical decision”. Michael O’Leary, 62, the airline’s boss, again called for NATS chief executive Martin Rolfe, 51, to be sacked.