Government to retain stake in air traffic company NATS
The Government has abandoned plans to sell off its 49pc stake in the National Air Traffic Service amid fears the organisation could have fallen into foreign hands.
1:18PM BST 10 Jul 2012
A sale of the stake had been two years in the making but the Department for Transport said the disposal would not have represented the best value for the British taxpayer.
The Government has received £44m in dividend payments from the organisation over the past two years.
Germany’s state-owned air traffic service, Deutsche Flugsicherung, had declared an interest in the 49pc holding, sparking concern from opposition politicians.
However, a group of seven airlines, including British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic, is pressing ahead with proposals to offload its 42pc holding in NATS.
It is believed the seven carriers that make up the aptly-named “Airline Group” have held talks with half a dozen potential buyers, including Deutsche, infrastructure and pension funds.
Peter Read, chairman of the Airline Group, said the organisation was “moving down the path” towards a sale.
NATS was part-privatised in 2001, with staff taking the remaining 5pc holding.
Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, said: “This sell-off was always purely ideological and would have delivered no benefits to the aviation industry, passengers or the taxpayer.
“It was always clear that this sale risked a foreign government securing a controlling stake in Britain’s airspace and it’s no surprise that other countries were known to be standing ready to snap up this British success story.”
Transport Secretary Justine Greening said it was in the “best interests” of the taxpayer for the Government to retain its shares in NATS “at this time.”