MP blasts HIAL for “empire building” in Inverness

The move would see a loss of high-quality jobs at Stornoway and Benbecula airports.
The move would see a loss of high-quality jobs at Stornoway and Benbecula airports.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has blasted plans by Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) to centralise air traffic control in Inverness.

The move will lead to the loss of island jobs.

The Islands’ politician has pledged to write to Lillian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons and to the Scottish Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP urging them to take action.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is absolutely no surprise that this is the game HIAL are playing, at the very beginning this was about their empire and jobs in Inverness which I predicted.

“The Scottish Government will have to look at the real social and economic impacts of this.

“The greatest turnover of staff is in Inverness where they want to put this empire and lowest in places like Benbecula and Stornoway where they are trying to take much needed jobs.

If electronic communications are as good as HIAL are saying, they could easily have put this centre in Benbecula or Stornoway.

“A multi-airport centre like this is not as clear cut as Swanage for London City where there is one centre for one airport. This is multi screens, for a whole host of airports, requiring training with a whole plethora of technical complexities.

“I am writing to the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons about the viability of what HIAL are proposing, as well as going into their scoping exercise as air traffic controllers have informed me they feel there have been flaws in this.

“I will also write to Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP urging the Scottish Government to get a grip of HIAL because they are running away from social and economic responsibilities here in the Hebrides.”

Mr MacNeil continued: “We have our ferry company being managed away from the islands, our airlines being managed away from the islands and now we can’t manage to have a few air traffic control jobs in the islands.

“This contrasts with our neighbours in the Faroe Islands who have their own national airline, 3 or 4 Airbus 320s, their own airport and airlines all run in the Faroe Islands.

“The Scottish Government have to have a look at this and perhaps one solution might be breaking up HIAL into Highlands Airports and a separate Islands Airports so that we have some measure of control and development in our communities rather than ‘having things done to us’ for a bizarre HIAL vision who are empire building in Inverness.”

Mr MacNeil’s concerns about the air traffic control plan has also been echoed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who said the decision was contrary to the ‘Island Proofing’ priciple set out in the Islands Bill.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, said: “Whilst it comes as no great surprise it is nevertheless disappointing that Inverness is the preferred location for the remote towers control centre.

“If this goes ahead there will be a loss of high quality jobs in the islands, both in Benbecula and Stornoway. I think at the very least such a decision would be contrary to the principle of ‘Island Proofing’, contained in The Islands Bill which recently came into effect.

“The loss of well paid jobs and the economic impact on Island areas would be disproportionately higher in the Islands and I would call on our MSP and the Scottish Government to demand that HIAL look at this again.

“The Islands Bill states clearly that Island Impact Assessments should be a part of the decision making process.

“Where is the evidence that any impacts on these islands was even given a passing thought?

“We will continue to make our voices heard and make the case to HIAL and the Scottish Government for other options to be considered.”