5 August 2002

Union warns over air risks

Air traffic controllers have warned of a "very real risk" to safety if the service's financial crisis is not solved.

Prospect, the controllers' union, wrote to Alistair Darling, Transport Secretary, calling for "immediate Government intervention" to resolve problems with funding and staffing in the part-privatised service.

Last night the Transport Department said Mr Darling acknowledged that the finances of National Air Traffic Services "need strengthening" and was working with other interested parties to find a solution.

"There is a very real risk that the combination of financial pressures and operational overload will lead to air traffic safety being compromised," said David Luxton, Prospect's national secretary, in the letter obtained by the Independent on Sunday.

Shortages of staff meant delays were likely to get worse over the coming year, he said.

A department spokesman said: "We recognise that the finances do need strengthening. All parties with an interest in the service are working together towards a long-term solution that will put finances on a sound footing.

"The Government is prepared, on the right terms, to match investment by a third party and the Government and the banks have each made £30 million available."

His letter came a week after the Commons transport committee issued a scathing report on the part-privatisation, which it said threatened to do "terminal damage to Britain's aviation industry and national interest".