Sumburgh air traffic control could be replaced with ‘centralised surveillance’

A review has been announced which could see Sumburgh air traffic control operations replaced by a centrally-controlled system.

Sumburgh Airport will be included in a Hial ‘scoping study’ to assess whether remote air traffic control could be used. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

Highland and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) is launching a “scoping study” to examine “all options”. It wants “remote tower technologies” and “centralised surveillance” to be examined as possible replacements for island air traffic control.

Hial says the plans are at an extremely early stage. The airport authority is seeking to inform people of what may, or may not, happen in the future.

The company even stresses that the plans will not be discussed at the next board meeting until September at the earliest.

A statement read: “Hial is currently in the very early stages of exploring opportunities presented by new and emerging air traffic technologies, which could have the potential to enhance the sustainability and resilience of air traffic services across the operation.

“A scoping study has been commissioned to investigate all options. Our staff and other key stakeholders have been informed of the current position, and will be fully involved throughout the process. The review will include an evaluation of remote tower technologies, centralised surveillance and controlled airspace.

“No decisions have been made at this very early stage in the process in relation to any change to the current air traffic provision at Hial operated airports, and the scoping study is not likely to be discussed by the Hial board until September at the earliest.”

The plan has already proved controversial with isles MSP, Tavish Scott voicing immediate concern.

He has made clear to Hial that the consultation must fully involve all affected communities while staff must be fully informed at the earliest stage.

“Concerns have been raised with us about the future provision of air traffic control services across the Highlands and Islands, including at Kirkwall and Sumburgh airports. In light of these concerns, we met this week with senior management of Hial following an earlier meeting with the minister for transport and the islands.

“Hial insist that they are in the very early stages of a consultation on how services might change in future. We made clear, however, that this process must involve full and meaningful engagement of staff and the communities directly affected. To date, this does not appear to have happened in the way that it should. Given the lifeline nature of the air services using these airports, that is not acceptable and will need to change. In that context, we look forward to continuing to be involved as discussions are taken forward.”


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