Scottish airline Loganair has backed controversial moves to centralise air traffic control for five Scottish regional airports.

Western Isles Council, a union and politicians have all hit out Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s plan.

The move involves Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.
But Loganair has now supported the decision to centralise air traffic control systems.

In a statement, Jonathan Hinkles, Loganair’s chief executive, said:”The upgrade to air traffic systems at Hial airports will be a significant step forward in the islands’ infrastructure.

“The new technology will provide additional safety protections versus those available with the current systems based on technology and procedures dating back several decades, and these will also help to reduce flight times and consequently reduce carbon emissions. From a safety and operational perspective, we welcome the developments.”

But he added:”The key questions to be addressed are around the economic impact of the removal of jobs from the island communities and how it will be ensured that the transition can be achieved given that the current ATC units will need to be fully manned right up to the day of transition to the new systems.
“In a world where air traffic controllers are amongst many groups facing skills shortages, this is a significant challenge that should not be underestimated.”

Hial said the change, which would be phased in, would modernise air traffic control.

But the union Prospect said the plan puts 60 jobs at risk and described it as “poorly thought through.”

Unmanned towers would feed information to a new combined surveillance centre at New Century House in Inverness.

The building near the Kessock Bridge at Inverness is currently the offices of Highland News and Media, publishers of the Inverness Courier newspaper.

The change would be phased in over the next few years, but Prospect understands it could be 2027 before it takes effect at Dundee due to the complexity of the air space there.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) said that the project would see Benbecula downgraded to an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) resulting in a loss of jobs and an inability to grow air services in Benbecula.

“Together with a loss of jobs at Stornoway as a result of centralizing air control services in Inverness, there could be a loss of up to 20 jobs in the Islands, a significant number of skilled jobs in an Island location,” said the council.

Uisdean Robertson, Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure, added: “It seems to me that Hial are looking at Stornoway and Benbecula Airports as burdens rather than assets. They are intent on running them down with the resultant loss of employment.

“This displays an incredible lack of ambition for the future of air services to and from the Islands. We should be looking at how these assets can be grown and developed to best serve the communities of the Islands.

“I will be calling upon Ministers to ensure that agencies like Hial grow their staff headcount in our islands not remove valuable jobs and families from our communities.”

Councillor Robertson also highlighted that safety and resilience were at risk of being comprised under the proposed measures for centralization.

“Our communities have extreme transport challenges ahead. Our ferry services have deteriorated because of ill thought through decision making made by mainland based management. It is sad that Hial is making the same mistake,” he added.

“Hial are putting their own priorities and dogma way above the needs of their customers and partners. Taxpayers money is being spent on a needless vanity project. It is utterly unacceptable in this day and age for a publicly funded body to behave in this high handed way.”

But Hial managing director Inglis Lyon described the new centre as a “significant step”.

He added: “It will allow us to move forward with planning and procurement of the relevant systems to safely deliver a state of the art air traffic control management system and give additional clarity to colleagues and stakeholders as we deliver this complex and challenging programme.

“Our focus continues to be on aviation service delivery and providing a safe, modern and efficient means of handling aircraft for the regions and the islands in the future.”

Transport Scotland aid the move was part of a wider programme to ensure remote and rural communities “continue to benefit from sustainable air services in the future.”