Issues

ATC Privatization in the UK Has Resulted in a “Total Meltdown”


Proponents of air traffic control privatization have long claimed that the US should follow the lead of the UK and other countries in terms of privatization, lauding the so-called benefits that privatization in those countries.  The truth?  After moving to a privatized air traffic control privatization, the UK has been plagued by increasing delays, widespread technical glitches, mass-strandings, and resulting in calls for modernization and a potential government bailout.

The UK’s Air Traffic Control System is In “Meltdown” and Getting Worse

  • Since turning over the UK’s air traffic control system to a private entity, the UK’s privatized air traffic control system has had near-constant problems, including widespread delays, technical outages, and stranded passengers – and this summer is no different.  For example, a glitch in British Airways IT systems recently resulted in “total chaos” at Heathrow airport in London.  (The Standard, Aug. 2, 2017)
  • According to a recent article in The Independent, “this year is typical: British Airways’ cabin crew have decided to strike and their IT systems failed again this week (the seventh time this year), causing check-in chaos. Air traffic control (Nats) is in meltdown, short-staffed and unable to cope.”  (The Independent, Aug. 4, 2017)
  • The article continued that a “report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), published this week, found that high levels of sickness, unplanned retirements, and staff reluctant to work overtime all contributed to the disarray. Factor in poor industrial relations and the result is inevitable, with delays 14 times higher in the first part of last year compared to 2015.  (The Independent, Aug. 4, 2017)

Parts of  UK Air Traffic Control System Have Even Been Taken Over By the German Government

  • As of last year, at Gatwick Airport, one of London’s busiest airports, a German-based air navigation company, owned wholly by the German government, was brought in to take over air traffic control services from NATS. “ATC tower services at London’s Gatwick Airport are being provided by a subsidiary company of German air navigation service provider DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung following an official transfer of responsibility on March 1.”  (Aviation International News, March 1, 2016)

The Privatized UK System Now Needs Modernization and a Bailout from the UK Government

  • As if this all wasn’t bad enough, the national air traffic service (Nats) has said a “massive programme of modernisation is needed to keep up with demand for air travel,” and according to the same article, experts have said that they are going to “need government support to make sure we can do that in the right way.” (BBC, June 30, 2017)
  • “[NATS is] warning that, if numbers continue to rise, flights to and from the U.K. could be impacted by significant delays unless the government responds with ‘drastic modernization.’”  (Travel & Leisure, July 24, 2017)

Air traffic control privatization in the UK has made the system less financially stable

  • Privatizing air traffic control has not stabilized the funding of the air traffic control system. In fact, just the opposite – in 2002, the UK’s privatized system, NATS, required a bailout of £130 million—£65 million taken from taxpayer subsidies and another £65 million in airline contributions through fare increases.  (Aero-News Network, June 2002)

The Example of the UK is Exactly Why We Should Not Privatize – Less Stability, More Delays and Taxpayers Are on the Hook When it Fails

The example of the UK demonstrates every reason why we should not privatize air traffic control.   The UK system is melting down, consumers are plagued with delays, and now only a government bailout or foreign governments can help to alleviate those woes.
###