NATS’ decision to retain trainee ATCOs welcome but implementation leaves sour taste

18 November 2020

National air traffic control operator, NATS, has announced that they will now allow the 122 Trainee Air Traffic Controllers (TATCs) access to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘furlough’) until next March.

This it thanks to pressure from Prospect’s Air Traffic Control Officer (ATCOs) Branch. It comes despite previous statements to the ATCOs’ Branch to the contrary when they pressed NATS on this issue previously.

NATS will offer the TATCs being made redundant on 30 November re-engagement on fixed-term contracts from 1 December to 31 March 2021. Prospect ATCOs Branch negotiated a collective agreement to put this offer in place on Friday.

Whilst elements of this announcement are welcome, the sting in the tail of this offer is that NATS will only pay the TATCs 80% of their salary during this period, aligning only to the payment made by the government.

Prospect has previously commented on the relatively small cost of furlough top-up for these 122 staff to 100% of salary, approximately £180K for the four months remaining. Many members have expressed outrage that NATS does not see this as a fair and reasonable cost to bear.

The branch met virtually with a significant proportion of the 122 TATCs on Monday evening in an attempt to gauge the feeling of the community to this news. Many described it as financial breathing space during this seasonal period. However, there was particular frustration that, despite NATS’ previously declaring that all employees receive 100% of their salary and associated allowances during furlough, the 122 TATCs are once again being treated as ‘second class employees.’

The following comment from a TATC during the call encompasses our opinion on this decision:

NATS have posted FAQs relating to the extended furlough scheme, in which they explain that everyone’s salary will be topped up to 100%. So, by treating TATCs (their lowest paid employees) differently to every other furloughed employee in the business sends a message that we are worth less than everyone else!

With just under 2 weeks left until this scheme kicks in, Prospect’s ATCOs Branch will continue to push for these TATCs to be treated in exactly the same way as the many NATS employees are on furlough. Whilst we welcome this u-turn it still feels as though this is a missed opportunity at best and we will continue to push NATS to treat the TATCs fairly whilst they are on furlough.

The commitment remains by Prospect ATCOs branch members to cover Prospect subscriptions for the 122 TATCs when/if their employment is terminated in March. Members have raised over £3,500 in a few weeks, which is a testament to the support and solidarity that ATCOs branch members have shown.


Prospect has members working in aviation, road, rail and maritime transportation, as well as regulation and research.