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Controversial remote tower plans ditched

Plans to install a “remote tower” to control air traffic at Kirkwall Airport have been scrapped.

Air traffic services across the Highlands and Islands are set to be modernised without the need for centralisation after confirmation that a project to install a series of “remote towers” has been shelved.

The announcement is expected to end the long-running dispute between Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) and air traffic controllers over plans to strip highly-paid skilled jobs away from island communities.

The announcement comes after the HIAL board met this week to discuss the future direction of its air traffic management strategy (ATMS).

Under ATMS, HIAL had wanted to centralise control services at five airports including Kirkwall to an Inverness-based hub, installing a series of unmanned “remote towers” using fibre optic links and cameras.

As well as abandoning remote towers, the new plans include the introduction of a surveillance programme across the HIAL network with services provided for Stornoway, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Inverness and Dundee.

There is also the commitment to reviewing air traffic provision against a scope, agreed by HIAL and Prospect, to inform the next steps of the programme. The review to be undertaken at the end of the surveillance programme, or at five years, whichever is soonest.

There will also be a review of the proposed downgrade air traffic services for Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.

The decision will now allow Prospect, the union which represents the air traffic controllers, to ballot its members on the acceptance of the revised proposal.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said: “This decision is an important one for Prospect members and hopefully brings to an end our long-running dispute with HIAL over remote towers.

“We welcome HIAL’s commitment to modernising air traffic control services in a way that works for staff, communities and the business.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped us to reach this outcome. It would not have happened without the dedicated campaigning of Prospect members, and without the widespread support of communities and politicians across the affected areas.

“We look forward to working with HIAL to bring through these modernisations.”

HIAL chairwoman Lorna Jack said the airport operator had listened to feedback from their colleagues and island communities.

She said: “This alternative delivery of the ATMS programme will provide enhanced safety and resilience to our operations and retain air traffic controllers on the islands.

“While this sets the future strategic direction for the programme, the board recognises that further detailed work will be required with colleagues before a comprehensive business case can be presented to Transport Scotland. This will include a review of our island impact assessment.”

Inglis Lyon, managing director of HIAL said: “We hope the board’s decision will enable the current industrial action to be brought to a conclusion and allow us to move forward together to deliver our fundamental aim — a modern, sustainable air traffic service for the Highlands and Islands.”