Criticism of the move to centralise air traffic control management

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant and Western Isles MP Angus Macneil have criticised the Inverness plan.
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant and Western Isles MP Angus Macneil have criticised the Inverness plan.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has condemned the announcement that plans to centralise air traffic control (ATC) in the Highlands and Islands will go ahead, despite fierce opposition from local communities, from the Prospect Union and from a cross section of MSPs.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) has announced that air traffic control for five Scottish regional airports will be undertaken centrally from Inverness.

The airports involved are Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

HIAL said the change will modernise air traffic control but the Prospect Union say the plan puts 60 jobs at risk and described it as “poorly thought through”.

The Union stated: “It will rely on remote towers, which will not need to be staffed, feeding information to a new surveillance centre in Inverness.

Rhoda Grant, MSP said: “From the day these proposals were first aired in 2017 I have received representation from local communities who are desperate to maintain the current system for safety reasons and to protect island jobs.

“I have been told that this project relies on superhigh bandwith to succeed.

“We all know that many of our remote and rural areas do not have this so how can HIAL press on regardless?

“The proposals to downgrade services at Wick and Benbecula are astounding given the localities have been earmarked as space ports.

“These decisions also fly in the face of the Scottish Government’s own recently published Islands Plan which seeks to protect and improve services and employment in island communities.

“HIAL appears to be intent on pushing this through despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option.

“While this decision fits with the Scottish Government’s determination to centralise services out of local areas, it is an appalling decision and HIAL and the Scottish Government must stop these plans right now before remote air services are jeopardised and more local jobs are taken out of rural communities.”

Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil also criticised the move.

He told the Gazette: “HIAL have named this high risk and costly option as ‘remote towers’ when in actual fact it is the centralisation of air traffic control meaning high-value island jobs going to Inverness.

“The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament committees, particularly the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee should be scrutinising this proposal line-by-line because it has huge implications not only for transport but for the community in the Western Isles.

“We know that air traffic control has a difficulty with recruitment and retention, but this is not the case in the island areas – when they recruit locally, they do retain locally.

“There is a huge risk that if air traffic control is centralised in Inverness that all air traffic controllers could be lost from Inverness as they are in demand globally and we would find ourselves without air traffic control anywhere in the HIAL network.

“This is an ill-conceived proposal which HIAL has somehow taken regardless of the warning voices from everyone else.”