Germans eye stake in UK’s air controller

GERMAN air traffic controller Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) is preparing to make a bid for the government’s stake in British equivalent Nats, according to reports.

The state-owned German business is believed to have approached London investment banks earlier this month about advising on a deal to acquire the government’s 49 per cent stake in Nats, which could be worth more than £500m.

Nats, which controls almost all flights in British airspace, was controversially part-privatised by the Labour government in 2001. The private investors, grouped as the Airline Group with a 42 per cent interest in the company, include British Airways, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic.

Heathrow owner BAA, which invested after the World Trade Center attacks, holds a further four per cent stake, and Nats staff hold the remaining five per cent.

The government’s plans to sell its holding in the company emerged in March, when chancellor George Osborne announced in the Budget that the government “intends to realise value from its shareholding in Nats, subject to considering the views of key interested parties”.

In June, then-transport secretary Philip Hammond published a call for evidence to support the decision-making process behind selling the government’s stake.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is currently considering the responses to that document, and gave no timeframe for a decision on the sale. “We are in the process of deciding whether to sell all, part, or none of the shareholding in Nats,” said a spokesperson for the DfT. “We will take a decision in due course.”