Ryanair claims UK ATC is discriminating against them

Irish budget airline Ryanair (FR/RYR) claims that UK Air Traffic Provider NATS is actively discriminating against the airline, a claim which NATS has denied.

The airline claims figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) proves that NATS is giving special treatment to Heathrow and Gatwick and imposing delays on traffic from London Stansted.

Ryanair claims this is caused by ATC staff shortages, a claim that resulted in a recent public spat between the two on social media.

In a statement Ryanair said: “The failure of NATS to fairly supply ATC staffing and airspace resources at Stansted Airport has wreaked havoc this summer on both Ryanair and London Stansted flight schedules, with 2018 shaping up to be the worst year on record for ATC disruptions at Stansted. The CAA Oberon report confirmed that Stansted suffered 15,268 (52%) delay minutes of NATS attributable ATC delays in Q1, while Heathrow suffered none, zero, nada.”

Figures for ATC delays from the main 5 London Airports are as follows:

  Pax (m) % of London ATC Delays
Heathrow 17.7 0%
Gatwick 9.3 10%
Stansted 5.6 52%
Luton 3.2 30%
London City 1.0 8%

Ryanair has submitted a formal complaint to the EU commission regarding the discrimination.

Ryanair’s Chief Operating Officer, Peter Bellow, said: “Ryanair and Stansted are clearly being discriminated against by the UK airline owned ATC provider NATS. That Stansted has had 52% of all NATS delays in Q1 while Heathrow has 0% (and Gatwick just 10%) is unjustifiable. These disruptions are unfair and unacceptable, and we call on the UK Dept of Transport and the EU Commission to take urgent action to ensure that the UK ATC provider (NATS) is fully staffed and treats each London airport fairly. NATS don’t have enough staff. Ryanair is today submitting a formal complaint to the European Commission and the UK CAA over this blatant discrimination against Stansted Airport and Ryanair.

The situation is particularly bad at weekends where NATS are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate. Urgent action must now be taken by the UK Dept of Transport, and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands more flights and millions of passengers at Stansted will continue to suffer disproportionate delays, while NATS protects its shareholder airlines’ services in Heathrow and Gatwick.”

NATS Swanwick ATC Centre
NATS Swanwick ATC Centre

The CAA’s Oberon report, that Ryanair uses as evidence of discrimination, stated that they found no evidence that NERL [NATS En Route Ltd] has unduly preferred or discriminated against any party regarding a claim made by Ryanair in 2016.

A NATS spokesperson told us that “NATS does not discriminate between airlines or airports” adding Ryanair performance this summer cannot be blamed on UK air traffic control.

“The figures Ryanair quote from the beginning of the year coincide with the introduction of new technology that affected the number of flights in and out of Stansted during that period. Luton airport was similarly affected at that time and other airports were affected at other times over a seven month period. All airlines and airports were notified of the timetable in advance and understood the new technology will help us increase capacity safely in the future.

Ryanair made similar accusations against NATS in the summer 2016. These were thoroughly investigated by the CAA. Their published report- “The Oberon Report” – stated that: “The CAA has found no evidence that NERL [NATS En Route Ltd] has unduly preferred or discriminated against any party.

“NATS has a duty to ensure commercial aircraft can fly safely through UK airspace. Adding extra controllers to the Essex airspace will not make a difference. Additional aircraft cannot fly in that area safely without redesigning the airspace which requires consultation with those affected on the ground.”

About Nick Harding 1963 Articles
Nick is the senior reporter and editor at UK Aviation News as well as working freelance elsewhere. He has his finger firmly on the pulse on Aviation, not only in the UK but worldwide. Nick has been asked to speak in a professional capacity on LBC, Heart and other broadcast networks.