Shetland MSP, Beatrice Wishart is set to lead a debate in parliament highlighting ongoing concerns over plans to centralise air traffic control services across the Highlands and Islands.
Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently made clear their opposition to proposals which would see air traffic controllers removed from airports across the region and replaced with a single, ‘remote’ tower based in Inverness.
The controversial plans were first brought forward by HIAL’s management over two years ago, since when serious questions have been raised about the cost, reliability and impact on local jobs. While it is widely accepted that modernisation of air traffic control infrastructure is needed across the region, HIAL’s own consultants acknowledged that the ‘remote tower’ model was the most ‘costly’ and ‘risky’ of the options available.
Shetland’s MSP has now lodged a motion in parliament that will see a debate on the issue take place later this month.
Commenting ahead of the debate, Ms Wishart said:
“It now appears clear that HIAL’s management is intent on pressing ahead with their plans to centralise air traffic control services. This is deeply worrying given the serious questions that still hang over these proposals and the level of concern amongst ATC staff.
“HIAL has been intent on pursuing this option from the outset, despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option. Since then, there has been a desperate attempt to get the evidence to fit the desired outcome.
“That is simply not acceptable, particularly given the lifeline nature of these air services. No-one disputes the need to modernise and invest in the current infrastructure. However, this must be balanced with the safety of passengers, reliability of services and the benefits of sustaining high-skilled jobs in our island communities.
“To date, the Scottish Government has been happy to wave through HIAL’s proposals with little evidence of robust scrutiny. I hope this debate will force the Transport Minister to think again and begin asking serious questions about these latest centralisation plans”.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur added:
“Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s recent track record on centralisation and major IT projects is not a happy or impressive one. That alone should make the Transport Secretary think twice about rubber stamping these proposals to centralise air traffic control services in Inverness.
“I know from discussions with local ATC staff members over the last two years that they remaining deeply unhappy and unconvinced about what is proposed. Their concerns over cost, deliverability, reliability and safety have simply not been answered by a management hell bent on pressing ahead regardless.
“That is a recipe for disaster. We know that the success of a change programme like this depends on staff buying into the objectives and being committed to their delivery. All the signs are that ATC staff across the Highlands & Islands remain steadfastly opposed to what HIAL is proposing, putting at risk the entire, costly venture.
“HIAL must stop playing fast and loose with the future of our lifeline air services. If not, it is up to Scottish Ministers to call a halt”.