Company performance

In July 2021, NATS Holdings Limited (NATS) announced its results for the year ended 31 March 2021.

In July 2021, NATS Holdings Limited (NATS) announced its results for the year ended 31 March 2021.

Financial year ended 31 March 2021 2020
Financial highlights:
Revenue and regulatory allowances – £m 823.0 892.1
(Loss)/profit before tax – £m (37.8) 25.3
Cash (used)/generated from operations – £m (163.0) 217.1
Capital expenditure – £m 78.8 158.5
Net debt1 – £m 435.4 170.7
Gearing2 – (%) 46.7% 29.0%
Dividends3 – £m nil 59.0
Operational highlights:
Flights handled (millions) 0.66 2.48
Safety: risk-bearing Airprox4 (attributable to NATS) 0 1
Delay seconds per flight (en route delay attributable to NATS for calendar years 2020 and 2019) 1.0 8.4
Airspace efficiency score (3Di)5 23.9 29.0
Headcount 4,227 4,860

Notes

  1. Excludes derivative financial instruments.
  2. Ratio of net debt (as defined by NERL’s Licence) to regulatory assets of the economically regulated business.
  3. Paid in financial year.
  4. An Airprox is a situation in which the safety of the aircraft was or may have been compromised in the opinion of a pilot or a controller.
  5. The three-dimensional inefficiency score (3Di) measures the fuel efficiency of flight profiles. NATS has made the 3Di environmental insight tool freely available to aviation stakeholders to use to track their carbon efficiency.

2020/21 financial year key points

The loss for the year reflects the impact of Covid-19 on NATS’ revenue and regulatory allowances and the carrying value of its assets.  NATS took action to reduce its cost base to preserve liquidity and to ensure that it is in a sustainable position to support the recovery in aviation.

NATS’ priority has been the health and wellbeing of its workforce while maintaining a safe and resilient service for its customers.  NATS made significant economies, which included a voluntary redundancy programme through which 400 colleagues left the business, but has focused on retaining the skills and capacity necessary to safely support the long term recovery of aviation.

In June 2021, NERL, NATS regulated business, completed a full refinancing of its debt structure.  It secured £1.6bn of funding by issuing £750m of unsecured bonds and agreeing £850m of new unsecured bank facilities.  This enabled the redemption of more expensive secured bonds, in place since 2003, and repayment of existing bank borrowings, including a £380m facility agreed in August 2020 which provided additional liquidity in response to Covid-19.  The refinancing ensures NATS is well placed for a range of recovery outcomes.

The CMA’s July 2020 final decision on the RP3 price control (2020 to 2024) has been overtaken by the impacts of Covid-19 on the sector.  The CAA is to determine a new five-year price control (NR23) starting in 2023, which will include an assessment to determine the level of recovery of NERL’s revenue shortfall across 2020 to 2022.

The London City digital tower entered operational service in January 2021.

Gatwick Airport awarded NATS a 10-year air traffic control and engineering contract from October 2022.

NATS further demonstrated its commitment to sustainable aviation through making its flight efficiency tool, known as 3Di, available across the global industry at no cost.

CEO, Martin Rolfe said:

CEO, Martin Rolfe

CEO, Martin Rolfe

“Managing the impact of Covid-19 and the uncertainty it created was the defining theme of the last financial year and continues to be our focus, together with supporting our staff and delivering a safe service.

The volume of flights we handled in the year fell by 73% from the year before. This significantly impacted our liquidity and our price control is now being redetermined by the CAA.  We responded quickly and effectively to restrictions caused by the pandemic, particularly in operational areas, to maintain a resilient operation, support our customers, secure our long-term finances and reduce our cost base.  We have also retained the essential skills required to ensure that we are well placed to deliver a safe and resilient service as the industry recovers.”

In spite of the challenges we faced, we continued to demonstrate our capability by delivering a new digital tower service to London City Airport and secured a new 10-year contract from Gatwick Airport from October 2022. “

“This is also an opportunity to build back better and we recognise we play an important role in delivering a more sustainable future alongside the industry. This must be accompanied by a new price control that provides the right level of resources to deliver the operational service, technology change and airspace modernisation to meet stakeholder priorities.”

Chairman, Dr. Paul Golby said:

Chairman, Dr. Paul Golby

“There continues to be great uncertainty in any return to normal levels of air travel.  Through the pandemic we have made significant economies but retained the skills and capacity necessary to ensure that we are able to safely support the recovery of aviation.  The form of any recovery remains unclear and may be subject to considerable volatility.  We remain prepared for a variety of outcomes.

The company and Board responded quickly at the onset of the pandemic to ensure that our staff were protected while maintaining a safe and resilient air traffic control service.  We took decisive action to preserve liquidity by significantly reducing our cost base and, suspending all but essential capital investment.  In June 2021 we secured £1.6bn from new unsecured bonds and bank facilities which enabled us to replace the funding arrangements in place since 2003.

“These actions ensure that the company is well placed to mitigate the impact of any further restrictions in air travel in the event of a resurgence in the pandemic and also bridge the shortfall in this year’s income and allow us to resume our essential investment programme.  However, it is also essential that we continue our disciplined approach to costs and liquidity as we focus on future business sustainability, for the company and the wider aviation industry.”

Notes:

  • The accounts of NATS Holdings Limited and its subsidiaries were approved by the Board on 9 July 2021 and are available from nats.aero/news/annual-report-accounts-2021. NATS Holdings Limited is the parent company of the NATS group.
  • NATS Holdings Limited operates through a Private Public Partnership (PPP) and is owned by the UK Government (48.9%); The Airline Group Limited (41.9%); LHR Airports Limited (4.2%) and the NATS Employee Share Trust Limited (5.0%). The Airline Group is a consortium including British Airways plc, the Pension Protection Fund, easyJet Airline Company Limited and USS Sherwood Limited.  Nominal shareholdings in The Airline Group are retained by Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Thomas Cook Airlines Limited (in Liquidation), TUI Airways Limited and Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited.
  • NATS (En Route) plc (NERL) is the core of NATS’ operations and accounts for more than 75% of the NATS group’s revenue. It is the sole provider of air traffic control services for aircraft flying en route in UK airspace and the eastern part of the North Atlantic.  It provides approach services to aircraft arriving at or departing from the major airports around London and air traffic control services to helicopters operating in the North Sea.  NERL also has a long-term agreement to provide the military with engineering, surveillance and communications services.  It is economically regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and operates under licence from the Secretary of State for Transport.  NERL reported a loss before tax of £34.2m (2020: £28.9m profit).NATS (Services) Limited provides airport air traffic and related engineering services at most of the UK’s major airports, including Heathrow, the world’s busiest dual runway airport.  It provides defence services to the UK MOD through Aquila, a joint venture, including air traffic services at six airfields and asset and service support.  In the UK, it also provides information, design and data services to airlines and airspace users.  Its international services are provided primarily to customers in Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
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