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McArthur urges ministers to ‘call a halt’ to air traffic control centralisation

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has urged Ministers to call a halt to the centralisation of air traffic control (ATC) services so a full islands impact assessment of the proposals to take place.

During Topical Questions at Holyrood, Mr McArthur highlighted the concerns that HIAL’s ATC staff have raised around the cost and risks associated with the proposals and called on the government to provide guarantees that Orkney’s lifeline air services would not face any major disruption as a result.

In response, the transport secretary, Michael Matheson, insisted that HIAL do intend to carry out an island impact assessment on the plans and that the government will ensure that HIAL engages with unions, staff and local communities.

Speaking after the exchange, Mr McArthur said: “HIAL’s decision to press ahead with the centralisation of these key services, ignoring the serious concerns of ATC staff across the network, seems reckless. While HIAL has gone through the motions of consulting, having clearly failed to take on board any of the concerns raised, it is difficult to see what purpose this has served.

“Since the announcement last week, I have been in discussions with local ATC staff who feel badly let down by HIAL.  Nobody disputes the need for modernisation, but even HIAL’s own consultants concluded that the remote tower model was the most costly and risky option. Alternatives were identified that could have delivered the improvements needed at a fraction of the cost.

“While I welcome that HIAL is to carry out an island impact assessment, given its approach to consultation so far, there have to be questions over how robust or independent this assessment will be.

“In the meantime, ministers must wake up to the scale of opposition and dissatisfaction amongst HIAL’s ATC staff. They should also recognise the clear threat this poses to delivery of lifeline air services in Orkney and across the Highlands & Islands if staff choose to vote with their feet. That alone should give Ministers pause for thought and allow more time for alternative options to be explored”.

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