THE Government has reportedly backed off from selling its 49 per cent stake in the Hampshire-based firm that controls Britain’s airspace.

Ministers two years ago proposed a possible £500m-plus sell-off of its share of National Air Traffic Control Systems (NATS), which employs 3,000 people in the county.

But the proposed sale has stalled after the Treasury become nervous of a possible German takeover of UK skies with Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), Germany’s state-owned air traffic service, expressing a keen interest. Unions have said that it would be a “sell-off too far”, and warned of the “potential dangers of foreign ownership”.

NATS was part-privatised in 2001 when a group of seven airlines, including British Airways and Virgin, acquired a 46 per cent stake and staff took five per cent.

Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jimmy Chestnutt said he would be “very concerned” if the DFS acquired the Government’s stake and the airline group or staff sold any shares to give DFS control.

About 1,500 staff work at its Swanwick air traffic control centre, Europe’s largest, with another 1,500 at its Whiteley headquarters.