8 August 2002

Air traffic centre still not up to speed

By Peter Woodman

Staff shortages mean the new £623m air traffic control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire is handling fewer planes than the centre it is replacing.

The National Air Traffic Services (Nats) centre at Swanwick is short of 41 controllers, and in June this year handled 4 per cent less traffic than West Drayton, the centre it is replacing, Computer Weekly magazine reports. Only 18 to 22 tactical radar positions – those used by controllers who talk to pilots – are being manned at Swanwick, compared to 24 at West Drayton. But a Nats spokesman said comparison was difficult because the centres' systems are different.

Swanwick is supposed to provide an increase in capacity of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent over West Drayton, while increasing margins of safety. Since its long-delayed opening in January this year, the centre has been hit by delays which it has blamed on a lack of controllers and the rise in low-cost flights.