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Council / Air traffic control impact assessment a ‘cursory process’, SIC says

The Sumburgh Airport control tower.The Sumburgh Airport control tower.

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) says it is “disappointed” that an impact assessment on plans to centralise Highlands and Islands air traffic control in Inverness is only being undertaken now – with concerns that feedback “will not alter the direction of travel” for the project.

Responding to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s (HIAL) islands impact assessment, the council said it has been a “cursory process rather than a genuine process of engaging with the community around the issues, options, impacts and mitigation measures”.

The response to the consultation was signed off by members of the full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday.

HIAL’s project would see Sumburgh Airport’s air traffic control managed remotely from Inverness, as well as services at four other airports in the HIAL network.

The government-owned company says the rationale for the change is in particular to address “historic and potential future staff retention and recruitment” challenges at Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

It is set to see around 13 full-time equivalent and three part-time roles at Sumburgh move to Inverness.

The plans are not popular, however, with the SIC previously expressing its concerns over the project in addition to Shetland’s representatives in Westminster and Holyrood.

When asked what HIAL could do to improve or mitigate the outcomes resulting from the proposals in Shetland’s economy and community, the SIC said: “Not treat every island area the same – the recruitment issues, stoppages and airport activity levels at Sumburgh Airport are very different from the other islands.

“The drivers for change do not exist to the same extent and the best mitigation would be to consider how Sumburgh air traffic control services could be sustained rather than removed.”

At Wednesday’s meeting south mainland member George Smith listed a range of concerns he had over the plans.

He said it was “difficult to see any positives and in particular for Sumburgh Airport”.

Smith believed there would be a significant impact economically and socially, while he also denied suggestions there is any sort of recruitment issue at Sumburgh Airport.

Safety was another issue for Smith – with concerns over HIAL “trailblazing” the technology when it is not used on a wide scale elsewhere.

The councillor also highlighted a recent report from the union Prospect on the remote air traffic plans took aim the proposals.

Smith was backed by Ryan Thomson, who chairs the council’s environment and transport committee.

He felt there was no benefit to the plans to anyone – including HIAL itself.

South mainland member Allison Duncan added that HIAL had already secured a building in Inverness to be used as a base for remote tower operations.

Having been a member of the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee since 2007, Duncan said he felt engaging with HIAL was a “complete waste of time”.

Fellow south end councillor Robbie McGregor highlighted that it is not just Shetland affected by the plans, and that any problems in Inverness could impact across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

The islands impact document says it is “not the role of the assessment to recommend that a specific course of action should or should not be carried out”.

HIAL boss Inglis Lyon previously said “it will highlight where mitigating actions are required to address any significant impact the programme may have on a particular community”.