Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Third Report

Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

46. The Committee has agreed to the following conclusions and recommendations:

(a)We commend controllers and other NATS staff for their exemplary response to the computer failures this year, and especially to the major failure on 17 June. However, such computer failures are a disappointment. Although their principal effect is increased delays for airlines, it is self-evident that the resultant increased workload for controllers, coupled with a loss of safety-related computer features, undermines safety levels, even if only by a very small degree. Neither delays nor any compromise of safety as a result of computer failure are satisfactory (paragraph 10).
(b)As was rightly pointed out to us, the institution of proper plans to ensure business continuity is required of many major companies, and is of vital importance to NATS given its dependence on so many software systems, and its safety-critical role. We recommend that NATS assess with its customers, staff and others its need for business continuity plans, and report to us the steps it intends to take to improve its ability to respond to events such as major computer failures (paragraph 12).
(c)Like the airlines, we can see little reason why NATS should not compensate its customers when, through its own failings, it does not deliver the service it has undertaken to provide. We recommend that NATS be required in future to provide at least partial compensation in such circumstances (paragraph 13).
(d)Given the clearly expressed opposition of NATS and others to the decision to build and maintain the New Scottish Centre under a PFI contract, and the subsequent decision to abandon those arrangements, we are extremely surprised and disappointed that the Government insisted that the project should go ahead on a PFI basis (paragraph 16).
(e)Although the advantages of having a single systems supplier for both the New En Route Centre and the New Scottish Centre may outweigh the risks, NATS must remain wary of the dangers posed by being so dependent on a single supplier. Therefore, we reiterate the conclusions of the Arthur D. Little Report, and recommend that NATS continue to follow good commercial practice in the management of its contracts, ensure that it retains managerial and technical competence in order to evaluate its relationship with its suppliers intelligently, and regularly review its financial exposure and business risk (paragraph 21).
(f)More than £15.7 million has been spent unnecessarily because of the Government's insistence, contrary to the clear and consistent advice of NATS itself, to opt for a PFI contract for the New Scottish Centre, and its subsequent decision to abandon the contract. We unreservedly condemn this waste of NATS' revenue (paragraph 23).
(g)We agree with the IPMS. It is extremely disappointing that the [New Scottish Centre] project has been so much delayed by the decision to opt for a PFI contract. In order to ensure that capacity in the airspace currently controlled by the Scottish Area Control Centre is not constrained we urge NATS to proceed with the construction of the New Scottish Centre without delay (paragraph 24).
(h)Although the arguments in favour of the 'two-centre strategy' seem persuasive, we recommend that NATS clarify for its major customers the benefits that the New Scottish Centre will bring (paragraph 25).
(i)Given the difficulties experienced in the PFI arrangements for the New Scottish Centre, and NATS' opposition to the use of the PFI in that case, we are again surprised and disappointed that NATS was required to proceed with the procurement of a new Oceanic flight data processing system under similar arrangements. We therefore condemn the fact that resources have been wasted in preparing a PFI contract which has subsequently been abandoned (paragraph 29).
(j)Although we acknowledge that the need to introduce a new Oceanic flight data processing system has become less pressing, we are nevertheless disappointed that it has been so delayed. We urge NATS to take steps to ensure that a suitable new system is put in place as soon as possible (paragraph 30).
(k)We note that slippage in the timetable for completing the later stages of development of the New En Route Centre is already expected, and we also note the Chairman's unwillingness to guarantee that the Centre will become operational on the target date. We trust that NATS will redouble its efforts to ensure that the Centre is opened on time (paragraph 33).
(l)The evidence we received from staff and from management about possible shortages of air traffic controllers at the New En Route Centre on the date that it is due to open is contradictory. We recommend that NATS re-examine the matter, consulting with staff, and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that adequate numbers of controllers are available to permit the new Centre to open at full capacity on 27 January 2002 (paragraph 36).
(m)Given the relatively modest increases in capacity made possible by the New En Route Centre, and given its original estimated cost of £462 million, its actual cost of over £700 million is disgracefully high. Moreover, there remains confusion and lack of clarity over the precise costs of the New En Route Centre. These costs, including NATS internal costs relating to the project, must be clearly stated without delay. We recommend that NATS explore with its suppliers means by which it may benefit from any re-sale of the technology to be used at the Centre, in order to recover at least some of the costs it has incurred (paragraph 37).
(n)Although we note the view of NATS management that current staff shortages are either very slight or do not exist at all, there are consistent reports of staff shortages at LATCC, particularly amongst engineers. We are also concerned about the availability of air traffic controllers during the period that the conversion training roster for the New En Route Centre is in place. We recommend that NATS keep a close watch on the situation, and that it ensure that it takes steps, including if necessary increasing rates of pay, to attract sufficient numbers of staff into the company (paragraph 42).
(o)Given all the problems the company has faced, it is obvious that now is not an appropriate time to subject NATS to further upheaval. We therefore strongly recommend that the proposal to implement a public-private partnership affecting the company be postponed, at least until the New En Route Centre has been successfully brought into operation (paragraph 45).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 17 January 2001