Airlines lament rise in UK air traffic control charges

By Joanna Plucinska

LONDON (Reuters) -Airlines criticised a decision by Britain’s aviation regulator on Thursday to increase the amount they can be charged for air traffic control services to help national provider NATS recoup costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NATS has been in the spotlight after an outage in late August which caused thousands of flight cancellations and delays across Britain and Europe and which airlines have said cost them millions of pounds. Airline executives last week called for new rules on passenger compensation in the event of such disruption.

Trade group Airlines UK, which represents carriers like easyJet and Ryanair, said the higher charges “simply cannot be justified while it remains unclear what action will be taken to ensure airlines and their customers do not see a repeat of this disruption”.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Thursday confirmed a provisional decision taken in July that NATS could set an average unit rate for regulated activities at 64 pounds ($78) in nominal terms from 2023 to 2027, up from 47 pounds.

The average cost of UK air traffic services per passenger per flight would go up by 43 pence on average, to approximately 2.08 pounds, the CAA said.

“The expectation was that charges for 2024 would go back to normalised levels, plus inflation. Unfortunately, something’s gone badly wrong,” said Jonathan Hinkles, chief executive of Loganair, in a LinkedIn post.

The new prices would ensure quality of service and safety, the CAA said. The process of raising price controls began before the NATS outage and is unrelated to the review and investigation into the glitch, it added.

Airlines for Europe, which includes British Airways owner IAG and Ryanair, said “raising prices after a monumental meltdown last summer is the very definition of rewarding failure.”

($1 = 0.8249 pound)

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Jonathan Oatis)