You may have recently seen a Twitter statement regarding delays from Irish budget airline Ryanair which blamed ATC shortages for delays to its flights on the 9th and 10th July
Whilst not unusual in itself, it got more attention when NATS (National Air Traffic Services), the UK’s air navigation provider responded and pointed out that there were no delays in the UK caused by ATC shortages.
Shortly after our coverage of the Twitter spat Ryanair contacted us. Their spokesperson said: “Regarding NATS, you might note that it is actually NATS who are ‘telling lies’. Indeed, Eurocontrol’s annual performance review report released last Friday highlights the problem of misreporting by European Air Navigation Service Providers. Here’s a helpful link: https://eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/publication/files/prr-2017.pdf”
In particular, Ryanair referenced this section from the report as evidence of their claims although as NATS pointed out, it makes no mention of NATS.
After receiving the allegations from Ryanair we approached NATS about these claims. NATS told us: “NATS handles 25% of European traffic and has an extremely good punctuality record – we are maintaining that record despite a big growth in air traffic. The average NATS-attributable delay per flight in the last calendar year was less than 7 seconds.
Despite record levels of traffic, data published for June 2018 by Eurocontrol, nominated by the European Commission to act as the EU Network Manager, shows NATS’ staffing delay in the UK represented less than 0.5% of total air traffic flow management delay in Europe.
We are surprised at Ryanair’s criticism of the quality of the UK’s air traffic control service. For Ryanair flights in the UK, the total NATS attributable delays due to staffing so far this year (as of June) accounts for an extremely small percentage (2.6%) of their overall air traffic delay, including weather. The categories of delay are set across Europe and all ATC providers are required to report against them using a strict set of criteria laid down in international law. We don’t just make it up.
The very high increase in traffic levels, which already this summer have broken all previous records, means there are occasions when total traffic exceeds the airspace capacity and so we have to regulate the amount of traffic using it, to maintain a safe operation. We have written to Ryanair repeatedly, and most recently on 6 July, to explain this and to offer the chance for face-to-face briefings, but to date those offers have not been accepted.
We are embarking on a major programme to modernise airspace in South East England in order to accommodate forecast growth in air traffic and we are committed to taking every opportunity to consult with airline and airport customers to minimise any disruption these changes may cause.”
It is rare for an airline to criticise an air traffic provider so publicly making it unsurprising that NATS would respond in order to protect its reputation. The passenger meanwhile is left in the middle of a blame game.
Ryanair’s spokesperson added “Ryanair has been in regular contact with NATS since the start of the summer regarding their performance and UK ATC delays affecting our passengers. NATS have so far refused our reasonable requests for information about their staffing levels.”
As for passengers, most don’t care what caused the delay, they just want the delays sorted out and seeing blame being put onto others publicly often leaves a sour taste in their mouth, It doesn’t look good for anyone.