Distressing, an interesting PARADOX
Air traffic staff threaten strike
The proposed partial sell-off of Nats is controversial
Air traffic controllers have issued the government with an ultimatum saying they will take industrial action unless it changes plans to part-privatise the service.
The controllers' union, which is against the proposed sell-off of 51% of the National Air Traffic Service (Nats), voted to hold a ballot if ministers refused to consider alternatives.
Negotiations will take place but it will be backed up by industrial action if necessary
But the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said on Saturday night that the public-private partnership would go ahead despite the vote.
The union's national officer said representatives would try to convince ministers otherwise at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
If strike action eventually goes ahead, air travel will suffer major disruption, especially during the busy Easter period.
The ultimatum follows a vote on Saturday at the annual conference of the controllers' union, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, in Manchester.
'Railtrack of the skies'
A Department of Transport spokesman said: "Demand for air travel is going ahead in leaps and bounds by about 4% a year.
"We need investment in new technology to deal with this and the government believes this is the best way to get the money to fund that. In that way we will ensure safety."
Air traffic controllers fear safety will be compromised.
More planes than ever are using the UK's airports
IPMS national officer Iain Findlay said: "We believe there is another way...a not-for-profit, not-for-commercial company that will actually get all the investment needed.
"Otherwise, we are looking at a Railtrack of the skies.
Last month air traffic controllers voted to reject an £8,000 offer in lieu of 10 days less holidays in order to train on a new £623m control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire.
Controllers are also angry at the introduction of performance-related pay for operational staff.
The government has had three bidders for the 46% stake in Nats which could be worth as much as £900m.
The air traffic controllers will have a 5% stake while the government will retain a 49% stake.
The three consortia are the Airline Group, a group of eight UK airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Nimus, backed by Serco, the UK facilities management group, and the Lockheed Martin backed Novares group.
Transport minister Lord MacDonald will bring a report back to the House of Commons at the end of the month which will make recommendations on which bidder is successful.