Further climbdown on air traffic ‘modernisation’

The original plans would have seen job losses at Stornoway and Benbecula.The original plans would have seen job losses at Stornoway and Benbecula.
The original plans would have seen job losses at Stornoway and Benbecula.
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited has taken a further step towards abandoning plans for “modernisation” of air traffic control, while blaming “funding challenges”.

The latest retreat over HIAL’s bitterly contested agenda was announced in a statement issued last Thursday afternoon which was not a bad time to “bury bad news”. It said: “HIAL is continuing dialogue with Transport Scotland and as a result will not be commenting further at this stage”.

However, questions are now being asked about how many millions have been wasted on a “vanity project” which one trade union source described as “an unbelievable waste of money which has delivered not one single thing”.

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The source said: “Millions upon millions have been wasted to end up in exactly the same position we were in five years ago. The only thing they have managed to grow is the head office wage bill. There are now no plans for future-proofing Air Traffic Control”.

In February, HIAL abandoned the threatened centralisation of air traffic control in Inverness which would have led to job losses in Stornoway and Benbecula while also, according to the scheme’s critics, threatening the reliability of the service.

At that time Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect trade union, which led the opposition on behalf of island-based members, said: “This shows what unions can achieve when working with local communities to safeguard the future of essential local services.

However, while the immediate threat was lifted, the HIAL board and managing director Inglis Lyon continued to pursue some aspects of the scheme and the status of Benbecula and Wick remained under review.

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This week’s further retreat said that HIAL’s management team presented a paper to the Board which highlighted “the considerable gap between the funding available and the company’s operational and strategic plans, including its air traffic modernisation proposal”.

Edinburgh lawyer Lorna Jack, who is the chair of HIAL, said in a statement: “Our overriding focus is to deliver safe, reliable, and sustainable aviation services for the communities we serve.

“Like many other businesses, HIAL must reappraise priorities and spending options and make difficult decisions based on the extraordinary circumstances we are all facing as global economic pressures impact our day-to-day activities and our future plans.

“The Board is considering several options to help address the current fiscal position and decided one of the options will be to scale back air traffic modernisation plans for the duration of the strategic spending review. This aligns with the five-year review agreed with the trade unions in January this year.

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“The HIAL Board remains in dialogue with Transport Scotland regarding the reduction of funding and its effect on frontline service delivery.”

HIAL’s plans for air traffic control centralisation have been widely condemned as a “vanity project” belonging to managing director Inglis Lyon, which have caused enormous anxiety in the islands over potential job losses.

In line with Scottish Government practice, none of HIAL’s non-executive board members lives in the region.