8th May 2008

Extending consultation is pointless unless questions are answered

In welcoming the decision by National Air Traffic Services (NATS) to extend the consultation period for the proposed new flight paths by four weeks Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has warned that the extension will be pointless unless vital gaps in the information so far provided are rapidly remedied by NATS.

The consultation, which NATS describes as ‘The Biggest Ever Consultation On Airspace Change’ was due to end on 22 May but has now been extended to 19 June according to an announcement by NATS today (8 May). NATS is proposing major changes to flight paths and stacking holds for aircraft using Stansted and other London airports which would have a profound effect across East Anglia.

SSE has been highly critical of the inadequacies of the NATS consultation and has written repeatedly to NATS in this context. However, NATS has so far failed to respond to requests from SSE and its parent organisation for urgent answers to some 35 questions on the alternatives considered.

In particular, SSE is concerned that the consultation fails to offer any explanation for NATS preferred options or to provide any substantive information on the other options considered. These include a total absence of details on whether offshore stacking options were examined. SSE has also been seeking an explanation of the methodology used for assessing the options in order to ascertain what level of importance was attached to environmental and community impacts as opposed to cost savings and efficiency gains for NATS airline shareholders [see Notes to Editors].

In its most recent letter to NATS Chief Executive Paul Barron on 2 May, SSE requested an extension of the consultation period to allow a reasonable period of time, following receipt of the answers to our numerous questions, for this essential additional information to be considered by all those affected across the region.

SSE recognises that there would be winners and losers from different elements of the proposal but, because of the greater number of flights which they are designed to accommodate there would be far more losers overall, especially in rural East Anglia. This is because NATS defines noise impact by the number of people overflown rather than by the noise which they actually experience, with the result that tranquil rural areas would suffer disproportionately. Expansion on Stansted’s existing runway would significantly worsen the picture, as would proposals for a second Stansted runway which could see a tripling of flights across the region, with little indication as yet of who would be affected.

Commenting on the consultation extension, Carol Barbone, SSE Campaign Director, said: “This consultation has been spectacularly mismanaged from the start. NATS must realise that by failing to respond fully and rapidly to the need for full disclosure of vital information underpinning the development of its consultation the door will be left wide open for legal challenge.”

Further information including guidance and summary briefing notes is available on SSE’s website. The two most recent letters to NATS from the campaign group can also be accessed from this page.


NATS Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of NATS Holdings Ltd and this is 41.9% owned by ‘The Airline Group Ltd’, a consortium of seven airlines. The remaining shares are held by BAA (4.2%), NATS employees (5.0%) and the Government – via the Secretary of State for Transport (48.9%). The Airline Group has the majority of the voting rights. The Government’s 48.9% shareholding carries no normal voting rights but entitles the Government to appoint three non-executive directors and to veto the Airline Group’s nomination for Chairman. It also provides a power of veto (‘golden’ share) over any material changes in the business activity of NATS, its capital structure and ownership.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits