Trade union Prospect is threatening legal action if the government allows private owners to sell their stake in National Air Traffic Services (NATS).
The row concerns a 42 per cent stake in NATS owned by the Airline Group, a consortium of seven airlines that includes British Airways, BMI and Virgin Atlantic.
Bought from the government in 2001, the stake is now estimated to be worth approximately £420m. That figure is £370m more than the £50m the group paid for its initial 46 per cent stake, leaving consortium members BMI, Monarch, MyTravel Airways and Thomsonfly itching to cash in their shares.
But Prospect, the managers and specialists union which represents 3,500 NATS air traffic controllers and engineers, and which opposed the 2001 part-privatisation, claimed any sale would contradict the not-for-profit aspect of the original deal.
Prospect general secretary Paul Noon commented: “The commitments given by the government at the time were legally binding, and we will take any steps necessary to prevent their being contravened, including legal action.”
Noon added that speculation about the sale underlines concerns the union raised at the time of the sale about safety standards and investment, and that if the Airline Group wishes to sell its stake in NATS, the government should buy it back.
“There must be no ‘For Sale’ sign over NATS,” Noon concluded.
Prospect has written to the secretary of state for transport Douglas Alexander making clear its position.
It is demanding an early meeting to seek assurances that the government will boost its stake in NATS if necessary, and restate its commitment to continued investment in the business.
The Department for Transport declined to comment.