Pre-tax profit at air traffic control operator Nats Holdings fell by almost £35 million in its last financial year.

The company, 41.9% owned by a consortium of airlines including British Airways and easyJet, handled 2.54 million flights in the 12 months to March 31 – almost a quarter of all services in Europe.

The profit for period was down to £98.2 million from £132.8 million over the previous year.

The reduction in profit “mainly reflected real price reductions to our en route customers, and investment in additional staff to meet the growth in air traffic volumes and to progress our technology change and airspace programmes,” according to CEO Martin Rolfe.

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The average delay per flight in 2018 was 12.5 seconds, including 4.8 seconds associated with a “complex transition” to a major new electronic system to replace working with paper.

Rolfe said: “In spite of this our performance was five times better than the average delays experienced elsewhere across Europe.

“This was an excellent year for service performance with the delivery of a safe and resilient ATC service, every day, against a backdrop of growing traffic and while introducing complex new technology into our terminal control operation.”

Chairman Dr Paul Golby added: “The government’s aviation green paper sets out an ambitious plan for the future of UK aviation.

“Published alongside this was our technical feasibility study into airspace modernisation in the south of England recognising the importance of airspace change and our role in delivering it.

“We have been commissioned by the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority to create and maintain a strategic masterplan of airspace change out to 2040 and to create the Airspace Change Organising Group to lead this change programme.

“This group comprising individuals from Nats, airports and airlines, will design and manage a collaborative programme which will deliver airspace change, delivering further capacity for those wishing to fly, mitigating noise impacts on overflown communities and reducing CO2 emissions from aviation.”

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