Plans to sell off the government’s 49% shareholding in the National Air Traffic Services have been abandoned.
Transport secretary Justine Greening, confirming speculation, said it was “in the best interests of the British taxpayer, the travelling public and the company itself to retain the government’s shares in Nats at this time”.
She said her decision had been influenced by part-privatised Nats’ role in an EU push to modernise and streamline Europe’s air traffic control systems.
The government has been considering selling its Nats stake, worth an estimated £500 million, since the 2010 election.
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle described the move as adding to a growing list of government U-turns.
“This sell-off was always purely ideological and would have delivered no benefits to the aviation industry, passengers or the taxpayer,” she said, adding that it would have been “reckless and short-sighted” of ministers to sell off Britain's air traffic control for a quick profit when it now makes a substantial annual return that benefits the industry and taxpayers.
“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,” said Eagle.
“Such a sale would have jeopardised the operational effectiveness of jointly managed civilian and military use of our airspace and reduced our voice in European discussions on aviation policy.”
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