Ryanair accuses air traffic control provider Nats of discrimination

Ryanair has accused the UK’s air traffic control (ATC) provider Nats of discriminating against it and other London Stansted airlines.

The budget carrier claimed 52% of all ATC delays in the London area “caused by Nats” during the first three months of the year affected flights at Stansted, which is its largest base.

This is compared with zero at Heathrow and 10% at Gatwick.

A failure of Nats to “fairly supply” staffing and airspace resources at Stansted has “wreaked havoc” this summer, according to Ryanair.

Its analysis of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data found that 2018 is on course to be the worst year on record for ATC disruptions at the Essex airport.

Ryanair has submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission and the CAA over the issue.

Nats is owned by a public private partnership including the Government (49%) and a group of UK airlines (42%) such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew said the airline and airport are “clearly being discriminated against”, describing the delay figures as “unjustifiable”.

He went on: “The situation is particularly bad at weekends where Nats are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as ‘capacity restrictions’ when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.

“Urgent action must now be taken by the UK Department for Transport and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands more flights and millions of passengers at Stansted will continue to suffer disproportionate delays while Nats protects its shareholder airlines’ services in Heathrow and Gatwick.”

Nats insisted that it “does not discriminate between airlines or airports” and declared that Ryanair’s performance this summer “cannot be blamed on UK air traffic control”.

It said in a statement that the figures quoted by Ryanair coincide with the introduction of new technology that affected flight capacity at Stansted and other airports such as London Luton over a seven-month period.

London Stansted
Ryanair claimed passengers at London Stansted are being discriminated against (Joe Giddens/PA)

The statement went on: “All airlines and airports were notified of the timetable in advance and understood the new technology will help us increase capacity safely in the future.

“Nats has a duty to ensure commercial aircraft can fly safely through UK airspace. Adding extra controllers to the Essex airspace will not make a difference.

“Additional aircraft cannot fly in that area safely without redesigning the airspace, which requires consultation with those affected on the ground.”

A spokesman for Manchester Airports Group, which owns Stansted, said: “We are seeking answers from Nats on the root cause for these delays and considering the need for further action, including the possibility of making a formal complaint to the CAA in due course.”

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