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Council calls for ‘pause’ to air traffic control centralisation plans

Orkney Islands Council has called for a ‘pause’ on plans to centralise air traffic control operations until an Islands Impact Assessment is carried out.

Orkney Islands Council (OIC) has added its voice to the on-going debate over HIAL’s air traffic control (ATC) centralisation plans, calling for a halt to progress until a full Islands Impact Assessment is completed.

Councillor Graham Sinclair, the chairman of OIC’s Development and Infrastructure Committee, spoke out days after the issue was raised with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

Recently the state-owned airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) moved ahead with the procurement process for its controversial plans, issuing an £8.5 million tender to provide the technology. HIAL’s modernisation plans would see air traffic control operations at a five airports, including Kirkwall Airport, centralised to a control centre in Inverness, using remote tower technology.

Speaking last week, councillor Graham Sinclair, chairman of OIC’s Development and Infrastructure Committee, said:We need to fully understand the impact on our community before any decision is made to create a remote air traffic control centre in Inverness.”

So it is disappointing that the government and HIAL have disregarded a call by this council, and others, for them to undertake an Islands Impact Assessment before by moving ahead with their plans.

We asked for this earlier in the year and expected the assessment to be completed before HIAL began to undertake a procurement process.”

Councillor Graham Sinclair.

Councillor Sinclair added: “An immense amount of work was undertaken before the passing of the Islands (Scotland) Act to ensure that Islands Impact Assessments would be carried out to give communities like ours a say when major changes such as this are proposed.

This appears to have been ignored on this occasion, which is why we are asking for the process to be paused until an assessment is undertaken.”

HIAL’s position is that impact assessment is being carried out. Spokesman said: “An island impact assessment is currently underway and is being undertaken by an independent consultant. This will include consultation with local authorities and community groups. It is anticipated that the process will be completed and a draft report produced by June 29.

While every endeavour will be made to maintain this timescale [for the IIA], we acknowledge that the current restrictions and physical distancing requirements may require this timeline to be extended.”

Procuring remote tower technology is part of the next phase of our ATMS Programme. This technology will help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and deliver a flexible, resilient air traffic service that will be highly adaptable as we ensure our airports are fit for the future.

The procurement process for such tenders is a lengthy process We anticipate that the process to procure the remote tower technology solution will be completed by December 2020/January 2021.

We have reviewed our capital programme to allow us to implement key projects, and have other projects shelf-ready for when we are able to return to some semblance of normality. We are also prioritising projects that will deliver local economic benefit within our communities.”

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