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Ryanair at Alicante-Elche airport

The airways of the world may face disruption this week, after industrial action was called by the European representatives of 28 unions and over 14,000 controllers, ATCEUC. Air traffic controllers are protesting against plans from the European Commission to cut costs which they say will reduce safety in the skies.

As a result, industrial action was planned across Europe for the 29th of January, and the European Transport Federation (EFT) also called for a strike on the 30th of January.

Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Cyprus issued notice of their involvement, with action ranging from 15 minutes to days on end, but all of these plans are subject to change, and cancellation, as the dates creep nearer, the advice as always being to check with your airline.

In France, Air Traffic Controllers called for a 5-day strike from the 27th to the 31st, later to cancel this action but participate in the action on the 30th of January. They also have a meeting to discuss this on Tuesday the 28th.

In Germany, Lufthansa asked a Munich court to stop their air traffic controllers joining the strike, saying it was “political” and “illegal”. The industrial action here has been cancelled, but with no reason given by the unions.

One place not affected by the industrial action is the UK, where NATS chief executive, Richard Deakin, said, “NATS controllers will be working as usual in spite of the threat of industrial action in Europe. If the strikes go ahead we will work closely, as ever, with Eurocontrol and other European air navigation services to help keep people moving whenever possible.”

The obvious question might be why the UK are not taking part, and indeed why Spain is also not seen as an active participant. The answer to this question might become clearer when we see how controlling air traffic has changed in both countries, and how the UK is perhaps seen as the first testing ground for the future of air traffic control.

The National Air Traffic Control Services, or NATS, proudly boast how they are “Transforming the traffic management to optimise airport and airspace efficiency across the globe”, which is precisely what the European model aims to achieve.

Originally set up in 1962, as the National Air Traffic Control Services, bringing together responsibility for the UK’s existing military and civil Air Traffic Control services, the group has seen huge developments since their inception.

The Public-Private Partnership for NATS was proposed in June 1998, becoming a reality of the Transport Act 2000, when the Government chose the Airline Group as the preferred partner in March 2001 and the transaction was completed in July 2001 with the sale of 46% to the AG and the devise of 5% to staff. Although the Government retained the balance, the company was finally free of Treasury control.

Therefore, NATS is currently 49% owned by the British Government, 42% by an airline consortium formed by British Airways, Lufthansa, EasyJet, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as well as a 4% ownership by Heathrow Airport Holdings and the remaining 5% by NATS employees.

As a service provider, NATS now operate in over 30 countries around the world, from America to Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, not forgetting Europe. Here is Spain, with their roots in the UK operation spreading globally; it might be a surprise to learn that NATS now have control of 10 airport towers in Spain, including Valencia and Alicante.

Through a joint venture with the Spanish company Ferrovial, ferroNATS made history on Monday of this week, when the 07:05 Ryanair flight took off from Alicante-Elche airport bound for Manchester, the first flight to do so under the guiding wings of a British controller in the Spanish airport tower.

Privatisation of Spain´s air traffic was devised in 2011 by the then Minister of Development, José Blanco, resulting at the time in the greatest collapse of Spanish airspace in history, during one of the busiest holiday seasons. The privatisation of Alicante-Elche control started early last year, in order to ensure that the controllers were fully trained before this coming summer season.

The new model of Alicante-Elche sees 12 controllers operating in the tower, compared to the 20 before privatisation, with only 4 of the original Spanish staff remaining. The majority of NATS brought-in controllers are from the UK, mostly with military training, some brining experience from busy locations such as Gatwick and Heathrow.

When the anticipated savings for Alicante-Elche alone are seen as some 2 million euro per year, a similar for Valencia, with most of the savings being attributed to wages, the financial benefits are obvious.

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/42341/

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