Plans to centralise air traffic control at Highland airports

Sumburgh Airport. Picture: TSPL
Sumburgh Airport. Picture: TSPL
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Controversial proposals to centralise air traffic control operations at key Highlands and islands airports have moved a step closer with the unveiling of £28 million plans.

Regional airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) yesterday said its board had agreed in principle to the plans – first unveiled last year – which would see a new remote tower centre established to oversee traffic at a number of key airports.

HIAL said increasing traffic demands and regulatory changes within the aviation industry meant that “doing nothing is not an option” and that the investment over the next ten to 15 years would “future proof” its operations in Scotland and help keep airports open for local communities.

It said the “long-term remote towers and centralised approach surveillance control programme” will mirror an already successful project in Sweden and transform the organisation’s operations at key airports including Stornoway, Inverness and Dundee.

Further talks with staff, stakeholder groups and politicians will now be held around the implementation of the project but HIAL stressed there will be no immediate changes to existing operations.

Managing director Inglis Lyon said the plans come against a backdrop of a number of challenges the operator faces given the nature and location of its airports.

“These include staff recruitment and retention, increasing regulation, and increasing pressure on costs. Our role is to ensure that the airport network benefits from investment in its long-term future, secured through new technology,” he said.

No decisions have been made in terms of the location of the proposed operational centre which will be the first remote tower centre of its kind in the UK. The new proposals will include HIAL airports at Benbecula, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Sumburgh, Stornoway and Wick John O’Groats but HIAL said that timescales for the implementation of the project have still to be “fully discussed and approved”.

HIAL said its airports at Barra, Campbeltown, Islay and Tiree have different levels of air traffic usage and will not be affected by the changes.

Union leaders have previously expressed concerns over the job implications of the plans and yesterday David Avery of Prospect said: “We are studying the details of the report and will consult with our members on the next step. Prospect is committed to protecting the jobs of air traffic controllers across Scotland and safeguarding the vital lifeline services they provide to some of the remotest parts of Scotland.”

HIAL is headquartered in Inverness and employs approximately 600 people across the Highlands and islands and Dundee. It connects Scotland to more than 30 UK and international destinations.