MORE than 100 trainee air traffic controllers at a Hampshire college are facing an uncertain future following a massive slump in the aviation industry.

The trainees, who are studying at the NATS college in Whiteley, are at risk of losing their jobs as the Covid crisis continues to have a huge impact on the number of flights.

They have been given until the end of this month to decide whether to leave or wait and see if any employment opportunities arise in October.

Daily Echo:

Some of the trainees were only weeks away from gaining their student licences and being posted to operational units, including the air traffic control centre at Swanwick.

But NATS has halted their training as airlines around the world wait for quarantine restrictions to ease and demand to increase.

The industry has warned that passenger numbers are unlikely to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024.

A NATS spokesperson said: “We currently have 275 trainees who have passed through the college and are waiting to re-start their on the job training at units across the country once traffic increases.

"They will provide sufficient controller resource for the next two years and there is no capacity to take more trainees from our college.

“With this in mind, we have taken the very difficult decision to pause training at our college, which means 122 trainees have until the end of September to decide if they prefer to leave or wait to see if any redeployment opportunities emerge over the course of October.

"We will stay in regular contact with those who want us to, and hope we will be able to re-employ them when traffic recovers.

“Our training college will remain active, supporting the trainees awaiting re-start and providing refresher training for our existing qualified controllers as traffic levels increase.

"The 122 trainees will have the guaranteed right to return to NATS as soon as we restart training in our college. They also have the opportunity to look for redeployment opportunities inside NATS now if they want to."

Daily Echo:

The controllers' union, Prospect, has criticised what it describes as a "cruel and disastrously short-sighted" decision by NATS.

A Prospect spokesman said: "They haven’t lost their jobs yet but NATS told them on Monday that it would be letting them go if they were unable to find redeployment opportunities, which is unlikely, before they come off furlough at the end of October.

"In effect, they’ve been told there's no job for them and their training will be terminated."