Plans for remote control towers at airports will have a “very significant negative impact” on some island communities, according to a new report.
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is planning to introduce remote integrated air traffic control services for five airports: Inverness, Dundee, Stornoway, Kirkwall and Sumburgh.
This will be delivered via a Combined Surveillance Centre located in Inverness.
In addition, Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports will change the way air traffic management is delivered by extending their current Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) operations.
An independent impact assessment of HIAL’s Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) found that there would be a “very significant negative impact” on employment in Lewis, Orkney and Shetland and a significant negative impact on the population there due to population loss.
On Lewis it is estimated that 14.3 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs and £579,000 in gross salaries will be lost under ATMS while in Shetland it is estimated at 16.9 FTE jobs and £670,000 in gross salaries.
For Orkney, the estimated impact is the loss of 16.2 FTE jobs and £653,000 in gross salaries.
Politicians and unions are calling on HIAL to rethink their plans.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said: “We’ve known for months that HIAL’s plans are damaging for our islands, but the impact assessment has revealed the full scale of this decision for our community. ”
He added: “Nobody has ever questioned the need to modernise air traffic control services but HIAL’s insistence that they do it by deploying ATMS is becoming less credible each day.
“With costs for the project continuing to rise at a time when the aviation sector is facing considerable uncertainty, the case for halting the strategy is stronger than ever.”
Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “This project is going to have profound implications for the local community and economy in Shetland, while benefits are hoarded in central areas. The report lays that out clearly.
“Removing air traffic control from Shetland should not happen.
“The Scottish Government must re-assess this project to find a better solution to modernising the Highlands and Islands air traffic network.”
Meanwhile, the trade union Prospect said the plan should be paused.
Prospect Negotiations Officer, David Avery, said: “The long-overdue Island Impact Assessment has now been published and shows what staff have been warning since the start of this project; that significant and unmitigable damage will be inflicted on island communities.
“The report is absolutely damning in its assessment of the damage this project will cause.”
The report compares the impact of the ATMS programme with what HIAL had considered as an alternative option: a local surveillance solution based at existing airports which was discounted for being the most costly option and because it did not offer as much operational flexibility, among other reasons.
Lorna Jack, chairwoman of HIAL, which is a public corporation, said: “We appreciate that a programme of this magnitude and complexity will bring significant change for people in our communities, including our highly-valued, air traffic control colleagues.
“However, standing still is not an option – we must modernise. ATMS is the only option that provides the necessary levels of resilience required to ensure long-term, sustainable, air traffic service provision for the communities we serve.”
HIAL managing director, Inglis Lyon, said: “To date, there have been no alternative proposals that provide a solution that fully addresses all of the challenges HIAL currently faces.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We recognise the need to modernise air traffic control to ensure more sustainable and reliable air services in the Highlands and Islands.
“No alternative has been proposed which addresses the issues that the project aims to resolve.
“We urge HIAL’s staff to continue to play a constructive role as implementation of the project progresses.”
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