Centralization of air traffic control for “dangerous” Hial airports

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legendAir traffic control at six regional airports to be managed centrally

Plans for unmanned air traffic control towers at airports serving island communities are “dangerous and have not been tested,” MSP said.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) offered to control traffic at six airports centrally from a hub in Inverness.

Hial said similar systems are already in use elsewhere in Europe.

Activists opposed to the move told the Holyrood public petitions committee that the plan should be scrapped.

The towers would be located in Sumburgh in the Shetlands, Dundee, Wick John O’Groats, Kirkwall in Orkney, and Stornoway and Benbecula in the Western Isles.

They would provide information to the central hub in Inverness.

The petitions committee heard from two witnesses in favor of a petition against the plans.

Peter Henderson, who worked at Kirkwall Airport in Orkney for 18 years as an air traffic assistant, said there was a risk of emergency medical flights being disrupted.

He said: “I cannot in good conscience accept that this is safe and I do not want people in my community to be made sicker or dying because of the long distance links which are very unstable. “

He said the airport control towers had visibility of around 24 km per day, while remotely monitored cameras would have a narrower view of only three miles (5 km).

Mr. Henderson said, “We rely on the ability to see things.

“Why send all those 100 miles by cable through the Highlands for a compressed view?

“This is simply not true. And it’s dangerous and it’s not tested and we are being tested. “

He said he left Hial because he “couldn’t cope” with the way he was being run, and he claimed current employees were barred from speaking out.

The technology around remote control towers was still “in its infancy,” he said.

‘Resilience and contingency’

John Doig, who presented the petition on behalf of the Benbecula Community Council, said there had been a lack of consultation with the communities that the move would effect.

He said the proposed changes would mean bad weather could cause “significant delays on scheduled or postal flights to prevent them from arriving and departing at the same time.”

Committee leader MSP Johann Lamont said witness testimony had been “extremely helpful” and further opinions will be sought from the Scottish government, which owns Hial.

She said: “In this remote working world, I would like to see this as an opportunity to develop the local economy in remote communities and it seems to be the opposite.

“I don’t think centralization anywhere is a terribly positive thing. “

Prospect, a union representing workers involved in air traffic control, has previously warned that the move will result in the loss of high-quality jobs in island communities.

The local authority for the Western Islands, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has also raised similar concerns.

Hial said its air traffic management system needs to be transformed to meet current and future operational needs.

He said digital tower technology has been operational since 2015 and is already in use, or being introduced, for Norwegian, Swedish, German, Dutch, Danish, Belgian, Irish and UK air traffic management.

A spokesperson said: “Our project will include security, resilience and contingency. Our regulator would not allow us to do otherwise. “

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