Labour accuse UK Government of putting remote Scottish flights at risk by leaving European GPS programme

Labour have accused the UK Government of putting remote Scottish flights at risk by leaving the European GPS programme.

The party’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon has raised concerns over the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) – the system that helps ensure safe air navigation.

Writing to UK transport secretary Grant Shapps, Mr McMahon explained the Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) had already warned they would be “severely impacted” by losing the service.

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Pointing to 11 regional airports in Scotland, including Barra, Campbeltown, Tiree and Islay, Mr McMahon warned they relied heavily on the aviation GPS style programme for search and rescue and medical transfers.

The airport at Wick John O’Groats would be among those potentially affected. Picture: Highlands and Islands Airports
The airport at Wick John O’Groats would be among those potentially affected. Picture: Highlands and Islands Airports

He explained: “Removal of the Localiser Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) line of minima will reduce access to HIAL’s aerodromes, which will have a significant adverse impact on service reliability, regularity and ultimately safety.

“All HIAL airports provide the vital lifeline and essential services the islands and remote communities depend upon.

“Their airports facilitate the transportation of critically ill patients; vital for Covid-19 patients during the current pandemic, as well as medical supplies, passengers for crucial medical appointments, and search and rescue operations.

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“This is over and above essential cargo, mail and general provisions, all vital services for Scotland’s remote communities.

“The loss of access to EGNOS is deeply concerning as it could result in service cancellations and HIAL being unable to provide these crucial services.”

The Scotsman understands the UK Government negotiated to stay in the system, only to deem it too expensive.

The Oldham West & Royton MP added: "This is yet another example of the government’s approach to Brexit holding the UK back, with reams of new red tape and bureaucracy making things difficult in countless industries.

“The government must take swift action to ensure the communities that rely on these airports aren’t left without vital services and that safety is not compromised.”

EGNOS is the first pan-European satellite navigation system, and augments the US GPS satellite navigation system, making it suitable for safety critical applications such as flying aircraft or navigating ships through narrow channels.

It allows users in Europe and beyond to determine their position to within 1.5 metres.

In a letter responding to the Labour MP, UK aviation, maritime and security minister Robert Courts claimed the move did not "pose an immediate safety issue".

He said: “The UK Government did seek to retain the use of EGNOS, and throughout the negotiation period we continued to discuss the matter with our European counterparts.

“Ideally, the UK would have liked to continue to be able to use the existing EGNOS working agreements (EWAs), but the European Commission sought the UK’s full participation in the EGNOS programme at a cost which was not considered to offer good value for the taxpayer.

“Unfortunately, it was accepted that for the immediate future at least, there is little prospect of renewing negotiations with the European Commission on the matter.”

Mr Courts explained the UK Government was now exploring “alternative options”, but admitted it would not be an immediate fix.

He said: “Any new service would potentially be able to offer improved services to UK transport modes, but it is, unfortunately, going to take some time and considerable investment to implement.”

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