Other ATCs, Funds Eye Britain's NATS

April 5, 2012

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Air traffic controllers, including Germany's DFS, and infrastructure funds are interested in the minority stake a group of airlines is selling in Britain's air traffic control authority NATS, the airlines said.

"There has certainly been quite a lot of active interest, either from infrastructure funds or other types of investment funds and one or two industry-related organisations such as DFS," said a spokesman for the Airline Group.

"There is some urgency to do something this year," he said.

DFS said the British government had estimated the value of NATS as a whole at around GBP£1 billion.

NATS, which employs 5,000 people, provides air traffic control services for planes flying in UK airspace and part of the North Atlantic. It made a pretax profit of GBP£28 million (USD$44 million) on revenue of GBP£777 million in the financial year ended March 2011.

The Airline Group - a consortium of seven British airlines including British Airways and Virgin - owns a 42 percent stake in NATS.

Other owners include the British government (49 percent), its own staff (5 percent) and BAA, the UK airport operator owned by Spain's Ferrovial (4 percent).

If the British government decides to sell parts of its stake too, the Airline Group would sell the assets jointly with the government, the spokesman said.

"The outcome is quite uncertain at this point and the route to get there is very complicated," he said.

The government has said it wants to reduce its stake. The Airline Group has previously called for the government to keep a minimum holding of 25 percent to maintain British influence over European Union air traffic policy.

The head of the German air traffic control authority, Dieter Kaden, confirmed he plans to bid, saying DFS aimed for "operational influence" at NATS.