Highlands & Islands

Hial review of remote air traffic control criticised

Aircraft propeller

The provision of air traffic control at individual Scottish islands airports could be replaced by a centrally controlled system.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) has briefed its employees of the potential, long-term proposal.

Prospect, the union which represents air traffic controllers across the UK, has opposed the idea.

Hial said it was in the "very early stages of exploring opportunities" presented by new technologies.

The Scottish government-owned company operates 11 regional airports in the Highlands, Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Argyll and Tayside.

The sites include Kirkwall in Orkney, Benbecula, Stornoway on Lewis and Sumburgh in Shetland.

'Losing jobs'

David Avery, Prospect's negotiations officer, said: "Hial exists to serve island and remote communities in Scotland.

"As part of this duty we believe that they should be supporting these communities by providing high quality employment locally.

"By moving these jobs to an as yet undecided central location the communities around Kirkwall, Benbecula, Sumburgh and Stornoway will be losing skilled jobs that are unlikely to be replaced.

"Prospect is also concerned that the telecommunications infrastructure required to operate a remote tower set-up does not yet exist in these areas. "

The union said Hial employed about 55 air traffic controllers and also additional support staff across Scotland.

'Remote towers'

A spokesperson for Hial said: "Hial is currently in the very early stages of exploring opportunities presented by new and emerging air traffic technologies, which could have the potential to enhance the sustainability and resilience of air traffic services across the operation.

"A scoping study has been commissioned to investigate all options.

"Our staff and other key stakeholders have been informed of the current position, and will be fully involved throughout the process.

"The review will include an evaluation of remote tower technologies, centralised surveillance and controlled airspace."

The spokesperson added that no decisions have been made and the scoping study was unlikely to be discussed until a meeting of Hial's board in September "at the earliest".

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