Carmichael warns centralising air traffic control would be ‘fraught with danger’

The air traffic control tower at Sumburgh Airport. Politicians have raised concerns over proposals that could see the service centralised. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

A warning has been made that a centralised air traffic control system mooted by the airport authority would be “fraught with danger”.


Highlands and Islands Airport Limited has faced a renewed challenge to ensure its proposals would, if put into practice, benefit from good connectivity.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael says that if the one proposed centralised tower could not work in the isles, it should not go ahead at all.

It comes after senior figures from Hial met politicians to discuss the review plans.

As things stand, air traffic management operations are carried out at Hial’s 11 regional airports.

But the airport authority is examining the possibility of replacing air traffic control operations with “remote tower technologies” and “centralised surveillance”.

A scoping study has been commissioned to investigate all options.

Hial says it is seeking to inform people of what may, or may not, happen in the future. But the plans will not be discussed until September at the earliest.

Mr Carmichael said: “A centralised system of air traffic control is fraught with danger. It relies on good quality connectivity – much better than we have at present.
The challenge I have put to Hial is that in testing their proposal they should be able to demonstrate that the one centralised tower can work if it is located in Shetland. If it cannot meet that target then it should not happen.

“If Hial truly believe that connectivity to Shetland will not be an issue, then I would challenge them to base their central air traffic control room out of Shetland and trust the connectivity to run the other airports from there. If Hial are unwilling to run the system from the most technologically challenging location, how on earth could they expect people in the isles to have faith that the system will work for them if it is run from the south?”

“A centralised system of air traffic control is fraught with danger. ALISTAIR CARMICHAEL

Hial’s managing director, Inglis Lyon, brought politicians from the Scottish and UK parliament up-to-date on what has been officially named the air traffic management 2030 strategy in a bid to explain the rationale behind the review study.

Part of the review is to ensure the long-term development of the Hial business and its services to the Highlands and Islands communities it serves.

The scoping study which is being led by aviation consultancy, Helios, will review operations. Hial says it will assess the best way of delivering a safe, efficient, future-proof service at mainland and island airports.

Hial have already briefed airport staff and unions on the proposals.

Mr Lyon said: “Our overriding priority is and will always be, to deliver safe and secure air navigation services now and into the future.

“Having already briefed our staff on the proposals and the decision to instruct Helios to review the operation, it is important we discussed the plans with the elected representatives whose constituencies include the 11 airports involved.

“We also needed to make them aware of global developments in technology and the consequential demands on the airline industry.

“We have an important role to play in sustaining airports within rural communities, promoting growth in air routes and enhancing connectivity through improved services and infrastructure. This delivers long-term job security both in the aviation sector and also through enhanced economic access for remote communities. New developments in technology are increasingly important at a time where we are both witnessing and anticipating significant passenger growth across each of the airports within the group.

“Hial is dedicated to ensuring employees enjoy rewarding careers with opportunities to continuously develop and excel in their fields of speciality and the long-term future relies on anticipating and delivering services that respond to evolving local, national and international air traffic management requirements.”

Further meetings with elected representatives are being scheduled.

The results of the scoping study, will be reviewed by the Hial board later this year. The organisation insisted “at this point no decisions have been taken”.


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