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Community / Politicians outraged as islands set to lose out in air traffic control centralisation move

NORTHERN Isles parliamentarians have hit out at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) after a retrospective islands impact assessment once again highlighted the economic damage of removing air traffic controllers from island airports.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the conclusion the independent study published on Friday was “more damning than we could have imagined.”

The impact assessment, carried out by Reference Economic Consultants, found that the economic impact on both Shetland and Orkney would “very significant”.

Added together, the Northern Isles are set to lose more than 30 well-paid full time jobs amounting to more than £1.3 million in combined salaries by March 2024.

The Liberal Democrats have been highly critical of the plans to centralise air traffic control services at a remote tower in Inverness since it was first mooted a number of years ago.

Last autumn, a similar study carried out by Shetland Islands Council, predicted that the move to centralise air traffic control services in Inverness was likely to cost the island one million pounds a year.

But HIAL has always said that the status quo was not an option and upgrading the services on individual islands in order to secure the future of the air services would be too expensive and risky in the long term.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael.

Carmichael said: “The ATMS impact assessment is more damning than we could have imagined and confirms local suspicions that this plan will cause serious harm to our communities.

“It is clearer than ever that this project is going to take quality jobs out of the isles and move them to Inverness. That is cutting away money from our local economy, in exchange for no benefit for aviation safety.

“The report shows no positives for Orkney and Shetland, with a range of downsides from the economy to population loss to service resilience. The only significant benefits appear to go to Inverness.

“That may be convenient for HIAL but it is an outrageous way to behave for any public body that is supposed to serve these communities.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland’s MSP Beatrice Wishart the impact assessment vindicated islanders’ opposition to the project.

The publication of the report follows on from a petition that the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP started last week which is approaching 1,000 signatures of islanders who are against the plans.

“This report vindicates the concerns raised by people in Shetland and the near 1,000 islanders who have signed my petition to put this project to a halt,” Wishart said.

“This report could not find one iota of benefit that this project will have on Shetland and in fact does the complete opposite. It is now clear as day that these plans go against the interests of the islands.

“This project is going to have profound implications for the local community and economy in Shetland, while benefits are hoarded in central areas. The report lays that out clearly.”

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur added: “We’ve known for months that HIAL’s plans are damaging for our islands, but the impact assessment has revealed the full scale of this decision for our community.

“Nobody has ever questioned the need to modernise air traffic control services but HIAL’s insistence that they do it by deploying ATMS is becoming less credible each day.

“With costs for the project continuing to rise at a time when the aviation sector is facing considerable uncertainty, the case for halting the strategy is stronger than ever.”