Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/163/7843
Labour's sell-off madness
THE MAIN air traffic control computer failed on 17 June, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. This was inconvenient enough for people wanting to travel but it once again exposed New Labour's privatisation policies.
The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) computer at West Drayton, west London, controls most aircraft entering UK airspace. The system is outdated and its replacement is at least five years behind schedule. The replacement centre at Swanwick, Hampshire, was due to open in November 1996. After numerous technical problems it is now scheduled to open sometime this winter. But it is already too small. As a British Airways worker told The Socialist:
"It's real Joe 90 stuff they've got over there [West Drayton], it's massively outdated. The new computer system has already failed and they haven't been able to get it on line yet. But even if they had got it on line when they intended to, it's already under capacity."
But the worst part about this fiasco is New Labour's mad dash to have the first privatised air traffic control service in the world. They want to introduce a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme which will involve selling off at least 46% of NATS to a private company and 5% to its employees. They claim this is the only way they can raise enough money for the future expansion of the service.
But NATS makes a surplus at the moment. The £30 million-£100 million required investment per year, estimated by the IPMS, the union representing 3,500 air traffic controllers, is a relatively small amount when compared to what the government is prepared to hand out to big business. They're happy to underwrite a loan of £1.2 billion for the Channel Tunnel Express Link and have loaned £520 million to British Aerospace, for example.
When the privatisation bill was going through its committee stage it was revealed that the government will only end up with a 25% shareholding. This is privatisation without the smokescreen of 'partnership'.
§ No to air traffic control privatisation. Develop the system as a public service, under democratic working-class control.
§ Nationalise the air transport industry. With democratic control and planning the surplus can be used to develop a safe, efficient air travel and air traffic control system.
In The Socialist 23 June 2000: