The UK’s troubled air traffic control management organisation NATS has appointed former Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East as its new chair as it seeks to reaffirm its reputation after its network was briefly shut down by a technical glitch in August 2023. 

Previously acting as CEO of the aerospace engineering company between 2015 and 2022, East will take over from current NATS chairman Paul Golby from 1 September 2024. 

He described his delight to be joining the company during an “exciting and crucial period”, he said: “The next decade or so brings huge challenge alongside multiple possibilities as the sector faces the necessity of the energy transition together with the opportunities presented by advancing technology.” 

The organisation has faced criticism from the UK aviation industry since the hours long shutdown in August, which saw a reported 700,000 passengers affected by delays and cancellations during a busy bank holiday travel period. 

Among the most vocal of NATS critics has been Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary who has frequently called for senior management changes at the organisation and said CEO Martin Rolfe should step down. 

A portrait of Warren East in a suit
Warren East will succeed Paul Golby in September 2024. Credit: NATS

Discussing the appointment of East, Rolfe said the aviation veteran’s “knowledge and insight into the aviation sector” would be “enormously valuable” and thanked Golby for his leadership through “the extraordinary challenges of the pandemic and subsequent rebuilding of the sector.” 

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In addition to overseeing the underlying and ongoing fallout of the 2023 shutdown, East is also likely to have to lead NATS while it addresses a shortage of air traffic controllers, something which saw Gatwick Airport forced to limit flight numbers during a high number of staff absences.