Former Rolls-Royce chief to chair UK’s air traffic control provider

Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free

The UK’s air traffic control provider, National Air Traffic Services, has appointed former Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East to be its new chair as the company looks to recover from a difficult period, including a technical meltdown that caused major disruption last August.

Nats on Wednesday announced that East would join the board as non-executive chair on September 1, replacing Paul Golby, who has served in the role for a decade.

East, who was chief executive of Rolls-Royce between 2015 and 2022, will join at a sensitive time for Nats, which has come under severe pressure from airlines for its operational performance over the past 12 months.

Most notably, the UK’s air traffic control system failed over the August bank holiday weekend last summer, affecting more than 700,000 passengers during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

An interim report from industry regulator the Civil Aviation Authority last month found that fixing the technical problem that caused the failure was “more protracted than it might otherwise have been” because some senior engineers were not in the office over the bank holiday.

Airlines have been highly critical of Nats’ response to the meltdown and called for compensation from the company to cover their costs, while Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has repeatedly called for Nats chief executive Martin Rolfe to resign or be sacked.

Nats, which is a public-private partnership owned by a group of airlines — including British Airways and easyJet — pension funds and the UK government, runs the airspace over the UK and the eastern part of the Atlantic. It also provides air traffic control services at many of the UK’s major airports, including London Gatwick.

Golby said he had served “through some of the most difficult times that Nats and the aviation sector as a whole have been through”, after overseeing the company through the Covid pandemic, when air traffic services remained open, and the subsequent recovery.

Rolfe said East’s “knowledge and insight into the aviation sector, the role of critical UK infrastructure and the experience he has of technology-led transformation will be enormously valuable”.

Nats has ploughed significant resources into modernising the running of the UK’s airspace in recent years in an effort to make flying more efficient and reduce carbon emissions.

East said the growing pressure on aviation to decarbonise meant that Nats faces “a crucial period”.

“The next decade or so brings huge challenges alongside multiple possibilities as the sector faces the necessity of the energy transition together with the opportunities presented by advancing technology,” he said.

East has taken several new roles since leaving Rolls-Royce at the end of 2022, including at a carbon capture developer and a fusion energy start-up. In January he said he wanted a “significant portion” of his work to be “around energy transition and dealing with the effects of climate change”.

Golby had already served as chair for longer than the recommended nine years under the UK corporate governance code after his tenure was extended for one year to help Nats through a review into the fees it bills airlines for its services.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.