Loganair backs HIAL on air traffic control move

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Airline Loganair has backed the decision by Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd (HIAL) to centralise air traffic control systems for airports in the Highlands and Islands region and Dundee in Inverness.

In a statement, Jonathan Hinkles, Loganair’s chief executive, said that the move would be a “significant step forward in the islands’ infrastructure”, and that the new technology HIAL aims to deploy from the new base in Inverness “will provide additional safety protections versus those available with the current systems based on technology and procedures dating back several decades.”

The new system would, Mr Hinkles stated: “….help to reduce flight times and consequently reduce carbon emissions. From a safety and operational perspective, we welcome the developments.

“The key questions to be addressed,” Mr Hinkles concluded, “are around the economic impact of the removal of jobs from the island communities and how it will be ensured that the transition can be achieved given that the current ATC units will need to be fully manned right up to the day of transition to the new systems.

“In a world where air traffic controllers are amongst many groups facing skills shortages, this is a significant challenge that should not be underestimated.”

Loganair, a regional airline based at Glasgow Airport near Paisley, provides air services to communities across the Highlands and Islands region and, in addition to its main base at Glasgow, the airline has hubs at Edinburgh, Inverness, Dundee, Aberdeen and Norwich airports.

Earlier, HIAL had defended its decision to downgrade the air traffic control systems at Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.

A spokesperson for HIAL, which is a company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers and which operates and manages airports at Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Islay, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick, said: “To provide an appropriate level of air traffic service proportionate to the volume and complexity of air traffic at Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats, the Board agreed to a recommendation to pursue a revision in the level of air traffic service from an Air Traffic Control (ATC) service to an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS). This is in line with industry norms for this type of airport.

“Currently, Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats handle a low number of aircraft movements at around 4,000 per year, in comparison to Stornoway, which handles over 10,000, and Kirkwall at over 14,000.

“The earliest possible date for a change in the level of Air Traffic Service (ATS) at Benbecula will be December 2021. This will allow us time to consult with our staff, trade unions and stakeholders and ascertain the most appropriate date for Benbecula to make the transition within the wider ATMS programme.”

Following HIAL’s announcement last week of the changes, the chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “It seems to me that HIAL are looking at Stornoway and Benbecula Airports as burdens rather than assets. They are intent on running them down with the resultant loss of employment.

“This displays an incredible lack of ambition for the future of air services to and from the Islands.

“Centralization of services and jobs is entirely contrary to what Island authorities have been working towards over the past few years and indeed is completely at odds with the Islands Act.

“I will be calling for an Islands Impact Assessment, in line with Island proofing, to be carried out on the implications of these shortsighted measures for our communities.

“I will be calling upon Ministers to ensure that agencies like HIAL grow their staff headcount in our islands not remove valuable jobs and families from our communities.”

Last week, HIAL confirmed that it had identified New Century House, close to Keswick Bridge in Inverness as the base for its new ‘Combined Surveillance Centre’ and the central hub of its new Air Traffic Management (ATM) project.

The company stated that the ATM project would change the way air traffic services are provided at seven airports by running activities in a centralised tower and surveillance centre, and ‘modernising the way airspace is managed’.

The company confirmed that the new system would use camera technology at airports, providing air traffic controllers, the company claimed, with ‘panoramic views of the airfield showing more detail than is possible with the human eye’.

A debate on the issue is scheduled for the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, and prior to that the Scottish Government faces questions on the matter as part of the Topical Questions session on Tuesday.