8 AUGUST 2022
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The Telegraph has raised questions over bonus payments to the Chief Executive of NATS, Britain’s state-backed air traffic control operator.
NATS, which is 49% owned by taxpayers, has insisted Chief Executive Martin Rolfe deserves a £1.2m bonus because air traffic controllers are not to blame for massive disruption and thousands of cancelled flights across the country.
According to the newspaper the payment has sparked concern across the aviation industry, with executives warning it risks causing reputational damage at a time of crisis.
One airline executive told the newspaper: “The scale of the bonus is quite extraordinary, and I suspect will make many – including NATS’ own staff – wince.
“After years in which airlines have had to pay significant price increases in the cost of UK air traffic control to cover NATS’ pension deficit – making the UK amongst the most expensive countries in Europe for air traffic control service - it’s distinctly galling to see this.
"It’s the epitome of the old saying that a ‘monopoly is only a bad thing until you’ve got one’”.
The payment is part of a long-term bonus scheme covering the five years from 2015. It was initially due to be paid out in June 2020, months after the pandemic plunged the aviation industry into its biggest-ever crisis. Rolfe said he would defer it "until a more appropriate time” rather than waiving the amount altogether.
In contrast Luis Gallego, Chief Executive of British Airways' parent company, gave up a £900,000 bonus in 2021 following a backlash from investors.
In addition to the £1.2m eventually coming his way, Rolfe and finance chief Alistair Borthwick took a separate £245,000 in annual incentives for meeting cost and profit targets during the six months to March 2022, according to NATS’ latest financial accounts.
Senior industry figures have told The Telegraph that air traffic controllers are in part to blame for this year's chaos. Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s Chief Executive, last week again complained that "flow restrictions" caused by controller absences had exacerbated disruption.
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