LONDON – The course of this week has seen Ryanair fire some damage towards NATS (the UK’s provider for Air Traffic Control) claiming discrimination against them and other London-Stansted (STN) based airlines.

Data published by the UK CAA suggests that Ryanair is being discriminated by NATS at STN.

The Oberon Report showed that STN suffered 15,268 minutes of delays due to NATS’ operations. This is supposedly equivalent to 52% of total delay minutes for Q1 2018 in the UK.

The report also showed that Heathrow (LHR) had no delays in the first three months of the year, with Gatwick (GTW) recording around 10% of total delays.

AirportPax (m)% of London ATC Delays
London City1.08%

Ryanair’s Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew spoke very strongly in the release put forward by Ryanair on September 3.

“Ryanair and Stansted are clearly being discriminated against by the UK airline owned ATC provider NATS,” he said.

“That Stansted has had 52% of all NATS delays in Q1 while Heathrow has 0% (and Gatwick just 10%) is unjustifiable.”

According to Bellew, “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.”

Bellew claims that NATS is severely understaffed and that Ryanair is submitting a formal complaint to the European Commission “over this blatant discrimination against Stansted Airport and Ryanair.”

Picture from Ryanair.

Bellew continued to blame NATS claiming that the situation worsens during weekends. “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,” he said.

“Urgent action must now be taken by the UK Dept of Transport, and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands of 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,” he concluded.

This attack on NATS came following the several exchanges made on Twitter between the two sides. 

Ryanair’s first statement on ATC Strikes, including the UK in it.
More responses between the two sides. 
Final response by NATS.

It can be understandable in the eyes of the airlines that operate out of Stansted that it is quite inconvenient, especially if the delay rates are lower in larger airports like Heathrow and Gatwick.

People could argue that the Oberon Report itself does not show individual statistics about the airlines on a “per airline delay basis”, meaning that the statistics for the Oberon report are based on all flights as a general factor.

The way that we could determine whether it is indeed discrimination is if any other airlines rally up behind Ryanair and say the same things.

Otherwise, this could be the product of the arguments debated back in July. 

For now, we will have to see how NATS officially responds to this. Bearing in mind the Oberon Report came from the CAA itself, it would be likely that they respond. Only time will tell. 

UPDATE 4/9/18 – NATS responded to the comments made by Ryanair. This is what they said:

“NATS does not discriminate between airlines or airports.

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 of 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.”