27 February, 2021

No further action over NATS delays caused by shortage of staff at the start of the COVID pandemic

Earlier this week the UK's The UK Civil Aviation Authority released its decision in relation to an investigation (Project Palamon) under section 34 of the Transport Act 2000 (TA00). We have considered alleged contraventions by NATS (En-Route) Plc ("NERL") of certain statutory duties under the TA00 and certain conditions of its Air Traffic Services Licence. This investigation followed complaints by Ryanair and Stansted Airport about air traffic flow management delays experienced by airlines and passengers of Stansted and Luton airports.

This investigation also follows an earlier investigation conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority addressing similar complaints brought by Ryanair and Stansted Airport in 2016 in relation to NERL's performance (Project Oberon).

In our decision we found that:

    NERL contravened its statutory and Licence duties and obligations in the period January 2019 to March 2020 in relation to the provision of sufficient staffing resilience in the London Approach Service for users of Stansted and Luton airports; and

    in relation to the other allegations raised as part of the complaints, including on airspace capacity, coding and discrimination, NERL has not contravened its statutory and Licence duties and obligations.

This decision confirms the Civil Aviation Authority's draft decision published for consultation on 17 September 2020. Annex 1 to the decision summarises the representations received on the draft decision and explains how the Civil Aviation Authority took them into account in reaching the decision.

In making these findings, we took into account the very difficult circumstances faced by the aviation sector and the significant reduction in air traffic volumes, following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.  We also note that forecasts for recovery are highly uncertain and it appears likely it will take some time to reach traffic levels seen in 2018 and 2019.

Given these circumstances, we consider it is not appropriate for us to take formal enforcement action, as the circumstances leading to the investigation are not currently occurring. Nonetheless, we make a number of recommendations that we expect NERL (and other stakeholders) to adopt in the future as they plan how to provide a resilient service when demand begins to recover, and in the longer term.

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