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Transport / HIAL’s late consultation slammed as ‘tick box exercise’

The remote tower technology has been introduced to a number of airports across the world such as Örnsköldsviks, in Sweden, as shown here.

A RETROSPECTIVE islands impact assessment into plans to centralise air traffic control has been described as “pointless” and a “tick box exercise” by those opposing the move.

Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL) announced on Monday that “in the spirit of transparency” the company had appointed consultants to carry out such a study but added that it would not influence the hugely controversial decision to create a remote air traffic control centre in Inverness.

The airport operator said it was not legally required to carry out an island impact assessment under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 because the decision to remove air traffic control from island airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway and elsewhere had been taken before the act came into force.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “The island community impact assessment will not recommend whether the programme should or should not go ahead, rather it will highlight where mitigating actions are required to address any significant impact the programme may have on a particular community.”

ZetTrans chairman Ryan Thomson. Photo: Shetland NewsZetTrans chairman councillor Ryan Thomson.

In response chairman of the Shetland transport partnership ZetTrans, councillor Ryan Thomson, said HIAL’s approach showed “blatant disregard” for local communities.

“This retrospective island impact assessment is neither in line with, nor morally in keeping with the Islands Act,” he said.

“A retrospective islands impact assessment not taking account of the impact in the decision in question is a pointless and futile exercise and in keeping with the blatant disregard the Shetland Islands Council, ZetTrans and the community of Shetland have been treated with in regard to the centralisation of the air traffic control from Sumburgh to Inverness

“I remain steadfast in my opposition of this centralisation. The island impact assessment will highlight many issues, not least the loss of several jobs to the South of Shetland, and the resulting impact that will have on Shetland generally, alongside the serious concerns I have with connectivity and reliability of service moving these jobs from Sumburgh to Inverness.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart added: “An island communities impact assessment that has been so designed that it is specifically unable to recommend whether centralisation goes ahead or not is nothing more than a tick box exercise.

“The Islands Act was intended to empower island communities. This “consultation” is not in that spirit.

“I would nevertheless encourage anyone with an interest to make their views known to HIAL about how remote towers and centralisation will impact them and our community.”

The airport operator’s £28 million investment programme will see air traffic management at Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway airports be carried out from a new remote operations centre at Inverness.

HIAL said the investment is necessary to “future proof” its operations in Scotland against a background of business challenges including staff recruitment and retention, increasing regulation, and increasing pressure on costs.

Lyon said the appointed consultants, Reference Economic Consultants, are currently in the process of contacting community representatives as part of the process.

“It is important that local representatives contribute to the assessment of potential economic and community impacts,” he said.

“HIAL looks forward to receiving the report with the findings from Reference Economic Consultants following completion of the consultation phase.”