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politics

ATC centralisation debate to hit Holyrood

The debate over plans to centralise air traffic controls at airports in the Highlands and Islands, including Kirkwall Airport, will be heard in Holyrood later this month. (www.theorcadinphotos.co.uk/Tom O’Brien)

Concerns over controversial plans to centralise air traffic controls in the region have been lodged at Holyrood this week by Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart.

Garnering support from a number of MSPs, including Orkney MSP Liam McArthur as well as Highlands and Islands MSPs Rhoda Grant and Jamie Halcro Johnston, the motion will raise the issue in Scottish Parliament on January 23.

The controversial plans, which were first mooted back in January 2018, would see “remote towers” used at seven airports across the region, including Kirkwall, with a control centre in Inverness.

HIAL has previously cited the need for long-term sustainability in moving the plans forward. However, as these remote towers would effectively be unmanned, there have been worries about the future for staff.

HIAL has previously said there are no plans to reduce staff numbers, although there are 86 positions which will be “impacted”.

Ms Wishard said: “It now appears clear that HIAL’s management is intent on pressing ahead with their plans to centralise air traffic control services. This is deeply worrying given the serious questions that still hang over these proposals and the level of concern amongst ATC staff.

“HIAL has been intent on pursuing this option from the outset, despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option. Since then, there has been a desperate attempt to get the evidence to fit the desired outcome.

“That is simply not acceptable, particularly given the lifeline nature of these air services. No-one disputes the need to modernise and invest in the current infrastructure. However, this must be balanced with the safety of passengers, reliability of services and the benefits of sustaining high-skilled jobs in our island communities.

“To date, the Scottish Government has been happy to wave through HIAL’s proposals with little evidence of robust scrutiny. I hope this debate will force the Transport Minister to think again and begin asking serious questions about these latest centralisation plans”.

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