NATS (NERL) found to be in contravention of its Licence over staffing by the CAA

17 September 2020

The CAA has today released its provisional findings for Project Palamon which is an investigation of NERL by the CAA, under its statutory powers following complaints by Ryanair and Stansted Airport Ltd.


The complaint covered various areas around airspace design, delay appropriation, discrimination in service provision and staffing levels, regarding the airspace surrounding Stansted and Luton airports.

Whilst no findings were made against NATS with respect to airspace design, delay appropriation or discrimination, the CAA concluded that:

“….. during the Relevant Period the significant increase in staffing delays together with a persistent lack of staffing resilience on the LAS to Stansted and Luton airports and the failure to anticipate and implement adequate and timely steps to resolve those issues means that NERL has contravened its duties under s.8(1)(c) and s.8(1)(d) TA00 and its obligations under Condition 5.2 of the Licence. “

Whist this will be of no surprise to our members, it is a damming indictment of the competence of the wider NATS staffing plan, which has followed a ‘boom bust’ cycle for many years.

The CAA further conclude that:

“a number of the underlying issues identified by NERL including short term illness, early retirements, challenges and limitations of on-the-job training appear relatively long-standing and reasonably foreseeable issues that should be built into effective resource planning including some margin for error yet NERL has thus far failed to find solutions to properly address them; and”

“NERL has not presented to us a recovery plan that, absent Covid-19, credibly demonstrated it could have closed the gap on supply of ATCOs meeting demand for non-Heathrow London airports in the near future.”

Steve Jary, Prospect National Secretary, said:

“These provisional findings show the very real impact that poor staff planning can have on our air traffic control capacity and in turn on passengers.

“Although this incident happened five years ago, they demonstrate the total lack of logic and short-termism of the recent decision to terminate the training of 122 students currently at the college. This includes 40 students with only 3 months of training left to gain a student Air Traffic Control Licence.

“There is strong historical evidence that after a downturn air traffic returns with a vengeance. The decision to lay off students will lay NATS open to further staffing challenges.

“Following the findings of the CAA, Prospect are calling on NATS to urgently reconsider its decision and future proof its staffing, by retaining all trainee ATCOs.”