Today, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart led a debate in the Scottish Parliament on HIAL’s plan to introduce remote towers and centralisation of air traffic control to Inverness. Ms Wishart used her speech to call on the Islands Minister to halt the controversial project which has raised concerns across the Highlands and Islands.
Ms Wishart told Parliament that HIAL is “pushing on” with the plans despite “genuine concerns” that have been raised by stakeholders, including Air Traffic Controllers, about safety and resilience of remote towers and the lack of consultation.
Ms Wishart highlighted Liberal Democrat research showing that there were 79 incidents involving degradation of air traffic control communication between 2013 and 2018, raising concerns about the suitability of cost of introducing remote towers to the Highlands and Islands. Ms Wishart also highlighted a survey from Prospect Union which found that 94% of its members oppose the remote towers plan and that 82% would be more likely to seek to leave HIAL if it was implemented and the lack of meaningful consultation with staff thus far.
Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, reiterated the need for modernisation of air traffic control services ahead of new air space regulations and encouraged HIAL to continue to engage with stakeholders as the project develops.
Speaking afterwards, Ms Wishart said:
“The strength of feeling communicated to Highlands and Islands MSPs by air traffic controllers and others, and demonstrated in the debate this afternoon, must compel the Transport Secretary to halt the plans and tell HIAL to think again. This is an issue of cross-party and cross community concern.
“It is disappointing however that the Cabinet Secretary seems to be giving HIAL the green light to press ahead with centralisation despite the lack of consultation and risks associated with the project. No one is disputing the need for modernisation and it goes without saying that safety can and should always be improved, but remote towers are not the only option available to HIAL, nor is ripping highly skilled jobs out of rural and island communities.
“From the outset, HIAL has failed to consult properly with staff members and wider communities, to the point that some air traffic control staff are now actively seeking to leave the organisation. That is unacceptable from a Government owned body serving the Highlands and Islands. Conducting an impact assessment two years after the decision has been made is no more than a tick-box exercise. It’s too little too late.”