Report into air traffic control centralisation is challenged by Hial

A fresh row has erupted over plans to centralise air traffic control services to the mainland after the Prospect union highlighted an independent report which criticises the move.

The union says findings by procurement expert Dave Watson show the likely costs and risks of shifting services to Inverness have been “hugely under-estimated”.

The move by Highlands and Islands Airports (Hial) to take services out of Sumburgh and other island airports has been described by Prospect as “not fit for purpose”.

It says the report looked at the overall costs and risks of Hial’s proposal.

The report also examined alternatives, as well as the impact on communities and the level of engagement.

Hial moved swiftly to challenge the report’s findings.

The report’s claims:

• Up to £18 million pounds of economic benefit will be lost.

• A scoping study by Hial identified the remote towers option as “the most difficult and risky”.

• Implementation costs have almost doubled to £33.5 million, while lifetime costs have been put at 70 million higher than the status quo.

• Safety and operational concerns have been raised including the breakdown of data transmission systems, cyber-security, weather assessment and the impact on human performance.

• The scoping study took place pre-Covid and does not take into account any potential impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry as a whole.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said: “Prospect and its members in Hial are not against reasoned changes to the technology and the operating procedures of air traffic control in the Highlands and Islands but these plans are not fit for purpose.

“If the Scottish government and Hial continue with the remote towers plans it will be remote communities that pay the price. It’s no wonder places like Shetland are looking into self-rule when their needs are paid so little regard.”

However, Hial says it has been “compelled” to challenge the report – even going to the extent of combing through its executive summary and tackling points raised.

The airport authority says remote towers are the “only option that offers long-term solutions in terms of resilience and flexibility”.

It points to a specialist project team which, it says, has progressed “key areas including the tender process for the digital tower procurement that is currently under way”.

And it says there are currently four other multiple airport digital tower operations in service, or development, including two in Sweden, one in Norway and one in the United States.

Hial said in a statement: “Given that doing nothing is not an option (a position agreed by Prospect ) the chosen approach is the only option that offers long-term solutions in terms of resilience and flexibility, both during normal and out-of-hours operations.

“Our position is clear and despite continued dialogue with the union we are compelled to challenge many of the points made in this report presented by Prospect.”


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