Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-90)
MR CHRIS GIBSON-SMITH AND MR RICHARD EVERITT
WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2002
80. In what categories? Research and development?
(Mr Everitt) It will be in assistants, engineering and support.
81. Can I have a definition of "assistants"?
(Mr Everitt) Air traffic control assistants.
82. Forgive me, Mr Everitt. I have the greatest admiration for National Air Traffic Services. I would just like to get on record every single word you say so I can study it. I find it very interesting and very useful.
(Mr Everitt) We will be reducing the number of air traffic control assistants as a result of technologies coming in. For example, if we implement a system of eliminating paper strips at Swanwick, that will reduce the requirement for assistants. That is one example. There are other examples in other parts of the business. We will also be reducing the number of engineers from about 1,350, including contractors, to about 950 over five years. That will be the result of a number of things. One will be investment in new technologies, which tend to require less ongoing maintenance.
83. We have not always had a jolly experience in the past with new technologies, have we, Mr Everitt?
(Mr Everitt) New technologies are demanding, and that is why we will be increasing the skills of many of our engineers.
84. So you will increase the skills of the engineers but get rid of a sizeable number of them?
(Mr Everitt) We will have the right skill baseindeed, we spent six months working this through with the engineering teamsto deliver a safe and consistent service. That is what we are doing. By putting our technical centre, where we bring our engineering teams from a number of places into one location, we will also make good savings. Ultimately we will of course rationalise our sites into two, Prestwick and Swanwick. The reduction in support staff is a result of things like business information systems which we are implementing. We will see reductions there too.
85. Mr Gibson-Smith, I think this Committee would welcome from you a note on your continuing talks with new partners, what type of new partners and what effect they will have on the working of National Air Traffic Services. We would also be very interested in another note detailing the staff losses and changes and the effect on efficiency that that will have. Can I ask you one thing: were you quite satisfied that the Department, NATS and the CAA had in place sufficiently robust contingency planning, so if you were struck by an event like 11 September, you were capable of coping?
(Mr Everitt) Do you mean in financial terms or operational terms?
86. I am talking about operational terms. We find the labyrinth of your finances fascinating, but this Committee is particularly interested in the safe use of your service.
(Mr Everitt) If we were struck with a 11 September type of problem? I was not personally satisfiedremember, I have only been there since the end of July too - that we had a sufficiently robust plan, and indeed, I set up, I think possibly even before 11 September, a group to work on this. By coincidence, we met this morning, and we now have a good plan in place.
87. Which came into being this morning?
(Mr Everitt) No, it did not come into being this morning. We have been working on this now for six months or more.
88. But not before the discussions that you had with the Department about how you were going to be privatised?
(Mr Everitt) I think there were some discussions but I would say that it was my own initiative in my role to identify what our contingencies were for loss of major centres. We have had a team working on that diligently. I think we now have a good plan. One or two bits of that will take a bit of time to implement, but the main bits are there.
89. When you are talking about loss of major centres, one of the obvious issues after 11 September is that there was clearly a period of time that afternoon when there was great uncertainty as to how many planes were flying around US air space with evil in mind. Do we actually have in this country an adequate mechanism were something horrendous like that to happen here to be able to identify that there is a problem with one or more aircraft, and to have the communication mechanisms into armed forces and emergency agencies of government to make them aware of the problem?
(Mr Everitt) The short answer is yes. You will understand why I would not want to spend a lot of time outlining what has been done on that.
90. We will accept your assurances that you have not only looked at this, but you have very specific plans in place.
(Mr Everitt) In conjunction with the Government. These are Government-led issues, which we are a party to, involving ourselves, obviously, and the military.
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance. We are very grateful to you.