The chief executive of airline Loganair has blasted the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for allowing the company behind travel chaos this summer to increase its air traffic control charges.
Jonathan Hinkles said that the controversial 26 per cent hike for airlines, which they say will also see passengers hit with higher fares, was ‘simply wrong at every single level’.
Loganair, which flies between Scottish airports and other parts of the UK, recently said something had gone ‘badly wrong’ in the CAA when it approved ‘rapacious’ new fees by air traffic control firm National Air Traffic Services (Nats).
Mr Hinkles accused Nats of ‘completely pulling the wool over the regulator’s eyes’. His airline lost £300,000 because of Nats’ systems failure in August, which disrupted hundreds of thousands of flights.
The air traffic control operator, NERL (NATS En Route Limited), has been cleared to increase its fees from £47 to £64 per unit through to 2027 which will also add millions of pounds to the cost of travel.
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Loganair chief Jonathan Hinkles (pictured) said that the controversial 26 per cent hike for airlines was ‘simply wrong at every single level’
It comes after an air traffic control failure caused widespread disruption this summer. Pictured: Passengers wait at Stansted Airport after delays on August 29
The increase has been decided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which claimed it was necessary to help NERL invest in improving its services.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today, Mr Hinkles said: ‘The decision by the civil aviation authority is just completely wrong and I’m afraid that NATS seems to have been able to completely pull the wool over the regulator’s eyes.
‘The most obvious example to that is that CAA say this allows NATS to charge broadly comparable figures to its European counterparts. Well, UK charges are now 20 per cent higher than Germany, France, Italy, 60 per higher than Spain.
‘It’s simply wrong at every single level. It’s going to be bad news for customers where we are going to see fares go up. That in turn is bad news for the economy because domestic airfares are one of the things in the basket of goods from which inflation is counted.’
Mr Hinkles said that the environment will also fall victim to the price hike because airlines who have the choice over how much they fly through the UK are going to reroute flights and take longer journeys thereby burning more fuel and creating more emissions.
‘Whichever way you look at it, this is a terrible decision,’ he added.
Mr Hinkles said that he raised the points at the consultation but said that the figures ‘aren’t accurate’. He said that the numbers are ‘several magnitudes’ above the estimates that passenger fees will rise by around 43p to around £2.08 per passenger per flight.
The Loganair boss continued: ‘The CAA has said this is a final decision as if to say ‘that’s it, suck it up and get on with it’. We’re not happy with it. But I think the strongest argument here is the environmental one.
‘We can already see airlines flying from Manchester to Tenerife getting airborne from Manchester, flying over Liverpool, Dublin and Cork which you would not expect to see on a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, taking routes that are 10 per cent longer and putting more carbon emissions into the atmosphere to do that, simply because these NATS charges are so high.’
The charges go towards funding the UK’s air traffic control system which is operated by National Air Traffic Services (NATS) . Pictured: NATS CEO Martin Rolfe
The August failure of air traffic control left airlines with an estimated £100million bill because they had to help up to 300,000 stranded customers with accommodation, food and alternative travel home. Pictured: Travellers whose flights were cancelled/delayed at Stansted Airport on August 29
The furious airline boss also said companies would be much happier if they were getting a better service.
‘If this increase was actually linked to guarantees, hard guarantees around performance that we would not face issues of the likes we had on the 28th of August, I think there would be more tolerance from the airlines,’ he said.
‘As it is it’s saying we are going to provide you with more of the same, but you’re going to pay a lot more for it.’
The August failure of air traffic control left airlines with an estimated £100million bill because they had to help up to 300,000 stranded customers with accommodation, food and alternative travel home.
Airlines such as Ryanair have been arguing that the fees should be slashed and that NERL should foot the bill for the chaos, which was blamed on an IT glitch.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, said the rise was ‘yet another kick in the teeth for passengers’.
Holidaymakers joined the long queues in the hope of getting checked in while waiting for their flights back in August
The group, which represents the likes of British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic and Tui, said passengers would ‘inevitably end up footing the bill of millions of pounds for increases’.
He said there was a need for an independent review into how air traffic control services were regulated ‘to protect passengers and ensure that airlines are not always forced to act as the insurer of last resort and bear millions of pounds of costs for failures that are not their fault’.
In contrast, Heathrow Airport’s finance chief told Sky News the price rise was justified.
‘National infrastructure is critical for the success of, for the connectivity, the country’, said Javier Echave.
‘It’s good to hear that the CAA recognises it’s important to invest in service and resilience.’
The CAA said the new fees were ‘broadly in line’ with other European air traffic control systems.
Its chief economist, Andrew Walker, said: ‘Our decision will provide the resources and investment required for NERL to provide a resilient, high-quality service for passengers and modernise its services.’