Air traffic control provider NATS suffered a profits slump in the year to March as it prepared for the onslaught of Covid-19.

The company reported a pre-tax profit of £25.3 million down from £98.2 million in the previous 12 months.

A group of airlines, including British Airways and easyJet, are part of a consortium which owns almost 42% of NATS, with the government owning 48.9%, Heathrow 4.2% and an employee share trust with 5%.

NATS handled 2.48 million flights over the 12 months, a slight decline on the 2.54 million the year earlier. 

However, the figures represent the period before pandemic travel restrictions grounded global airline services.

Covid-19 then saw “significantly reduced” traffic levels from March.

Our response was to protect staff, maintain a safe operation, control expenditure and manage liquidity. In August 2020, we secured an additional £380 million bank facility,” NATS said. 

Company chairman Dr Paul Golby said: “No previous demand shock, including 9/11, volcanic ash, the global financial crisis and Gulf wars, has posed such a significant threat and level of uncertainty to NATS’ business.

“The board has challenged and supported management in responding rapidly to protect the company’s staff, operation, cash conservation and funding.

“While the timing, rate and extent of that recovery remains uncertain, the board expects the regulatory framework underpinned by the requirements of the Transport Act 2000 will ensure that the company is able to finance its licensed activities. 

This confidence was reinforced by our lenders agreeing an additional bank facility through to 2022.”

Chief executive Martin Rolfe said: “The year was good in terms of the quality of our service provision. We also progressed a number of major strategic projects designed to deliver the ATC capability UK aviation required for the future.  

“However, as the year closed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was becoming more apparent.

“We adapted to this rapidly and have positioned ourselves well to manage the challenge to both us and our customers.”