A debate is being brought to the Scottish parliament following concerns over plans to centralise air traffic control services across the Highlands and Islands.
Shetland’s MSP is set to lead the debate following strong opposition to the proposals which would see air traffic controllers removed from airports across the region, including Sumburgh, and replaced with a single ‘remote’ tower in Inverness.
Beatrice Wishart is being supported by Highlands and Islands Tory member, Jamie Halcro Johnston.
The controversial plans were first brought forward by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited’s (Hial) management over two years ago.
Questions have been raised about the cost, reliability and impact on local jobs.
While it is widely accepted that modernisation of air traffic control infrastructure is needed across the region, Ms Wishart says Hial’s own consultants have acknowledged that the ‘remote tower’ model was the most ‘costly’ and ‘risky’ of the options available.
The Liberal Democrat MSP has now lodged a motion in parliament that will see a debate on the issue take place later this month.
“It now appears clear that Hial’s management is intent on pressing ahead with their plans to centralise air traffic control services.
“This is deeply worrying given the serious questions that still hang over these proposals and the level of concern amongst ATC staff.
“Hial has been intent on pursuing this option from the outset, despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option. Since then, there has been a desperate attempt to get the evidence to fit the desired outcome.
“That is simply not acceptable, particularly given the lifeline nature of these air services. No-one disputes the need to modernise and invest in the current infrastructure. However, this must be balanced with the safety of passengers, reliability of services and the benefits of sustaining high-skilled jobs in our island communities.
“To date, the Scottish government has been happy to wave through Hial’s proposals with little evidence of robust scrutiny. I hope this debate will force the Transport Minister to think again and begin asking serious questions about these latest centralisation plans.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has added his voice to calls for a debate in Parliament on HIAL’s plans to centralise air traffic control in the region.
Mr Halcro Johnston, an Orkney resident and regular user of Hial services, said: “I share the concern of many people over Hial’s plans to centralise air traffic control services in Inverness.
“There is real concern amongst Hial employees that they don’t feel that they have been properly consulted, particularly amongst those living in the islands. Hial should reflect on the feedback they are receiving and review their options before they commit to the approach they are advocating.
“I am yet to be convinced that these proposals from Hial aren’t more about saving money than providing a better service. Given how important our vital lifeline air-links are, that would focusing on the wrong priority from Hial.
“I would welcome the opportunity to see the issue debated at Holyrood and, with Hial entirely owned by the Scottish government, to hear the Minister’s justification for Hial’s plans.”
It is understood that Hial is planning to update staff and stakeholders on the air traffic controllers issue later this week.