NATS owners mull impact of govt sale

A NATS shareholder confirms that if the UK Government goes ahead with selling part of its stake in the UK ANSP, it could lead to a new owner – possibly DFS – taking a controlling interest, writes Aimee Turner.
The UK Government last year said it planned to reduce its 49 per cent stake in the business it co-owns with the Airline Group’s seven member airlines, airport operator BAA and NATS employees, in an effort to help reduce the UK’s national debt.
In December, German state-owned Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) admitted it was planning to make a bid for the UK government’s stake following reports that it had approached several investment banks to tender for an advisory role.
Peter Read, the chairman of AG which holds a 42 per cent stake in NATS, tells ATM that the German ANSP was invited to give a joint presentation to both AG and Government representatives a year ago although talks went no further at that stage.
“They have now been made aware that we are moving pretty close to the point where we will be inviting bids. The recent reports in the media were simply a sign that DFS was getting ready for this in advance by issuing an invitation to tender to a number of banks to prepare some sort of proposition,” said Read.
Other potential candidates include several major banks with infrastructure funds, a general investment fund, some overseas pension funds and several ANSPs, one of which is DFS.
According to Read, the UK Government has two options: to sell 24 per cent leaving it with a 25 per cent stake in NATS and build into the licence certain protections such as a golden share regulating any future onward sale – or to sell nothing. “No alternative arrangement is being looked at,” said Read.
Read said each AG member will sell some of their respective shareholding and that that would reduce the total AG stake to 20 per cent. If the UK Government goes ahead and divests 24 per cent and BAA, which has long considered its stake in NATS a non-core asset, sells its 4.2 per cent – that would leave over 50 per cent of the business up for sale.
Read points out that several further outcomes remain possible: the UK may choose not to sell; AG could invite other shareholders and even if the Government does opt to sell, that could result in a further reshuffling of existing shareholders. 
Air Traffic Management magazine spoke to Peter Read at length in its latest issue. Click here if you wish to find out more about subscribing to Air Traffic Management.