After Eyjafjallajökull – time to end NATS secrecy

by | May 3, 2010


I had always assumed that NATS – the UK’s air traffic control organisation, which was at the heart of the volcanic ash crisis – would be covered by Freedom of Information legislation.

After all:

The company… holds a monopoly of air traffic control for aircraft flying over the United Kingdom and, with its Irish counterpart, the North East Atlantic. It also provides air traffic control at most of the large airports around the country.

NATS was once a public body, but was converted into a public-private partnership in July 2001. The government maintains a 49% shareholding, with 46% held by a consortium of airlines, and 5% by employees.

It still provides a quintessentially public service, however, but because it’s not 100% government-owned, it’s not covered by the 2000 FOI Act (nor are any other public-private partnerships).

The public has a right to see information held by the British Potato Council, the Horserace Betting Levy Board, or the Architects Registration Board – but none at all to understand how NATS handles flights on which 200 million passengers travel every year.

The Act, however, gives the relevant Secretary of State the power to “designate as a public authority for the purposes of this Act any person…who appears to the Secretary of State to exercise functions of a public nature.”

Surely that clause should be used to bring all or most of NATS’s work under the act, especially as we try to understand the organization’s highly controversial role in the Eyjafjallajökull crisis.

Wonder if the new government will commit to making this change as soon as it takes office…

Author

  • David Steven is a senior fellow at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.


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