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Transport / Centralising air traffic control in Inverness could cost Shetland dear

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

PLANS to remove air traffic control from Sumburgh Airport and centralise the service to Inverness are likely to cost the local economy more than £1 million a year.

In a submission the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee, Shetland Islands Council said it was “difficult to foresee any positive economic impact” from the controversial move, which is driven by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.

The council described the HIAL’s belated islands communities impact assessment (ICIA), being undertaken after the decision to move ahead with the remote tower technology, as “window dressing”.

Earlier this year former HIAL employees John Doig and Peter Henderson as well as Alasdair MacEachen on behalf of Benbecula Community Council, petitioned the parliament in an attempt to halt the move from the Scottish Government-owned airport operator.

A first meeting of the petitions committee two months ago decided to investigate further and initially write to the government for more information on its decision-making.

Since then, the committee has received a raft of further written submissions from airport users and local authorities, as well as a number of from HIAL employees which were submitted anonymously.

The SIC has voiced grave concern over the plans ever since the issue of operating air traffic control services for Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Dundee and Inverness remotely from an office building in the Highlands capital was first made public in 2019.

In a strongly worded submission, the council has reiterated that concern and “remains unsatisfied with responses” provided by HIAL.

The council said the relocation of 13 full time equivalent plus three part time jobs from Sumburgh to Inverness could potentially lead to the loss of 29 people of working age population.

“These jobs are highly skilled and attractive technical roles, and are extremely valuable in maintaining a diverse local labour market and skilled workforce, which contributes to talent attraction and the promotion of Shetland as a place to live, work, study and invest,” the document reads.

“The value of salary payments lost to Shetland is identified as £587,000 – applying a Type II sectoral of 1.8 (multiplier for transport support services) the impact of this loss to the local economy could be over £1m”.

Echoing concerns about the accuracy of claims from HIAL regarding the difficulty of recruiting in remote island communities, the SIC suggests HIAL has been a victim of its own recruitment strategy.

HIAL’s air traffic controller recruitment: a view from within

The council said: “HIAL have a recruitment strategy to recruit qualified licensed ATC or part-qualified ATCs – focussing their search on those already within the professional aviation community.”

“This strategy compounds their recruitment challenges across their network by choosing a small pool to recruit from and not recruiting people with local connections or living in the community to promote retention.”

In his response to the committee, Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson said that he was satisfied by the decisions HIAL had taken “based on the best available information and analysis of the different options available”.

Further responses can be found on the Scottish Parliament’s website at https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/airservices

The committee is expected to meet again in December.