Britain is likely to sell half its stake in British air traffic control operator NATS and some of the group that controls NATS may also lower their stakes, the chairman of The Airline Group said on Monday.
Peter Read told Reuters on the sidelines of an aviation industry summit the government -- keen to sell assets to help pay down a record deficit -- could keep its stake at 49 percent, cut it to 25 percent, or sell it all but retain a golden share.
"The most likely thing is the government will want to look at some kind of selldown and go through with it," Read, a retired airline pilot, said, adding a partial sale was more likely than a complete sale.
Read said some of the seven airlines that own The Airline Group -- which controls 42 percent of NATS and is the strategic operator of the company -- could "very possibly reduce their shareholdings as well."
The seven are British Airways, easyJet, Lufthansa-owned BMI, Virgin Atlantic, Thomas Cook, TUI Travel and Monarch Airlines.
The remaining 9 percent of NATS is held by airport operators and staff.
The move comes to light weeks after the agency was plunged into the public spotlight over the closure of European airspace during the volcanic ash crisis.
NATS provides the majority of air traffic control in Britain and parts of the Atlantic, and by its own estimate it handled some 2.2 million flights in the last year.
It is unique among air traffic control services in the world in being partially privatised, an option that has been considered elsewhere but never implemented.
Read forecast a "parallel run" between an IPO or a private sale as the government considered its options for NATS, which he valued at several hundred million pounds.
Privatisation is expected to be a major theme in Britain in the coming years as the government looks to raise much-needed cash from a variety of assets.
Single European sky
His comments came as the airline industry renewed its push for fewer air traffic authorities controlling larger areas of the sky, with executives lamenting the decades-long wait for at least $6.5 billion in expected cost savings.
April's volcanic ash crisis, which closed much of European airspace for a week, brought the issue of fragmentation back into focus. Despite the advances the European Union made in bringing the continent together, airspace is still very much a national affair.
The solution, many say, is the so-called "Single European Sky," an idea to unify airspace that dates to at least 1960 and which was renewed in 1990 with European monetary union.
"I want the $6.5 billion in cost savings of a fully implemented Single European Sky. After 20 years of waiting we are fed up," International Air Transport Association Chief Executive Giovanni Bisignani told delegates to the group's annual meeting here.
Bisignani estimated that some 10 global air traffic authorities could effectively replace the 180 currently in operation at half the cost.
ReutersLast Mod: 05 Eylül 2010, 13:43