Highlands & Islands

Centralising air traffic control raises job fears

Air traffic control (stock image) Image copyright Reuters

Centralising air traffic control at regional airports would lead to the loss of highly skilled jobs in island communities, councils have warned.

Flights at Sumburgh in Shetland, Kirkwall in Orkney and Stornoway and Benbecula in the Western Isles are to be handled at a new hub in Inverness.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) says the move is needed to modernise air traffic control.

But three islands councils have called for a temporary halt to the changes.

Western Isles local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar along with Orkney and Shetland islands councils said nothing should happen until an islands impact assessment had been carried out.

Brought in as part the Islands Act, the impact assessments are designed to take islanders' interests into account on government decision-making on policies and legislation.

They have jointly written to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson urging for a moratorium on Scottish government-owned Hial's plans, which also involve Inverness and Dundee airports.

'Modernisation essential'

In a statement, the councils said: "Not only would the centralisation of these services lose skilled island jobs, they could also curtail the future development of the island airports.

"Centralisation of services and jobs is entirely contrary to what island authorities have been working towards over the past few years in terms of growing island economies."

The local authority said other options for air traffic control should be "more fully explored".

Transport Scotland said the modernisation of air traffic control was "essential to meet forthcoming regulatory requirements".

A spokesman added: "Hial agreed in principle two years ago, following an in-depth study, to create a central surveillance centre as part of a wider programme designed to ensure remote and rural communities continue to benefit from sustainable air services in the future.

"We recognise that this is a major change for the organisation.

"Hial has engaged extensively with staff, local authorities and other stakeholders throughout the process and we expect them to continue to engage and consult as it implements the programme."

Hial said its priority was to provide air services, particularly lifeline services, to island communities.

A spokesman said: "However, we face a number of significant challenges that could affect our ability to continue to deliver our service into the future.

"We require a long-term solution that will address challenges including staff recruitment and retention, provide resilience at our airports, meet impending regulatory requirements and assure air navigation service delivery well into the future.

"Our Air Traffic Management Strategy aims to address these challenges."

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