Passengers will foot the bill for air traffic controllers’ pandemic losses

air traffic control

air traffic control

Airfares are set to rise after regulators proposed increasing air traffic control charges levied on passengers to recoup some of the revenue lost during the pandemic.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has recommended passing the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) bill on to travelers at a charge of £2.03 per flight.

Although a relatively modest figure, the charges will be applied on a per-passenger, per-flight basis and will frustrate airlines, who will have no choice but to pass them on to customers.

Paul Smith, CAA’s consumer and markets director, said allowing NATS to increase its fee for monitoring the skies over Britain and parts of the Atlantic would lead to better service .

He said: “Today’s announcement will spur [air traffic management] to continue to put in place the necessary resources and investments to provide a resilient service as the number of air travel continues to recover following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In addition to managing price increases, these proposals include ambitious quality of service targets for flight delays and efficiency, designed to deliver positive outcomes for consumers.”

NATS was forced to cut costs during the pandemic as the aviation sector came to a standstill.

The company has two branches: one that manages air traffic control towers at airports, and another that organizes en-route flights called NERL.

NATS is 49% taxpayer owned but privately funded. Other shareholders include airlines and large pension funds.

Willie Walsh, the former British Airways boss and head of airline lobby group IATA, has long warned that air traffic control costs will be increased to cover Covid costs, saying global increases in 2021 of 2 .3 billion was “outrageous”.

Despite NATS’ cost-cutting scheme to save money, the company has maintained a £1.2million bonus owed to chief executive Martin Rolfe earlier this year.

The company said Mr Rolfe deserved the bonus because air traffic controllers were not responsible for the massive disruptions and thousands of canceled flights across the country in 2022.

It was originally due to be paid in June 2020, months after the pandemic plunged the aviation industry into its biggest crisis ever. Mr Rolfe said he would postpone it ‘until a more appropriate time’ rather than waive the amount altogether.

A NATS spokesperson said: “We will review these initial proposals and respond to the CAA.”

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