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Passengers face higher charges to boost air safety despite recent chaos

Airlines and passengers will face higher charges to help bail out the embattled National Air Traffic Services (Nats) provider recoup losses incurred during the pandemic and improve air safety.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK air regulator, confirmed that NATS could charge airlines £64 per aircraft, up from the existing price of £47. The charges run from this year to 2027.

It means the average cost of UK air traffic services per passenger per flight would go up by 43p on average, to approximately £2.08, the CAA said, adding the new prices would ensure quality of service and safety.

Airlines, who largely pass on the charges to customers through higher ticket prices, have reacted angrily to the increases calling it “another kick in the teeth” for passengers.

NATS has been embroiled in controversy after the system for safely controlling aircraft over UK skies shut down unexpectedly in August causing thousands of flight cancellations and delay across Britain and Europe.

Airlines told MPs the failure, which is now the subject of an independent inquiry, has cost them millions in compensation for passengers which they believe Nats and ultimately the taxpayer, should compensate them for.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary blasted the Nats for the system collapse claiming it was a ‘byword for regulatory incompetence and mismanagement” and said its boss should resign or be sacked.

FILE PHOTO: Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary speaks during a press conference about Ryanair's multibillion-dollar deal for as many as 300 Boeing jets at Boeing headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., May 9, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has been critical of UK air traffic control management. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The CAA said the issue of examing new charges was taking place before the Nats August outage and is not related to the review and investigation into the incident. It said its investigation into what happened was continuing.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of airline lobby group Airlines UK, said: “This is yet another kick in the teeth for passengers who have been plagued by issues this summer including the August Nats IT failure and will inevitably end up footing the bill of millions of pounds for increases that 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.

“It is clear that a wider independent review into how Nats is regulated is needed to protect passengers and ensure that airlines are not always forced to act as the insurer of last resort and bear millions of pounds of costs for failures that are not their fault.”

The CAA said the prices are expected to stay below the average level of pre-pandemic charges between 2015-2019, and should remain broadly in line with the UK’s european counterparts. 

Andrew Walker, the CAA’s chief economist, said the charges would “provide the resources and investment required to provide a resilient, high-quality service for passengers and modernise its services” as well as helping it recover losses from the pandemic.

He said the price control should ensure an “efficient service and value for money”. “Implementing targets around performance, efficiency and environmental impact will help deliver an improved airspace system that will benefit everyone,” he added

“We also recognise the disruption caused by the technical issue in August and we will consider any further regulatory steps as appropriate following the outcome of the Independent Review.”

A Nats spokesman said they were studying the CAA’s final decision.

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