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Transport / Council motion calls for air traffic control project to be paused

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

A MOTION is to go in front of councillors next week calling on Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to pause plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness so it can give “proper consideration” to a recent islands impact assessment on the controversial project.

The motion is proposed by Shetland South councillor George Smith and signed by his ward colleagues Allison Duncan and Robbie McGregor.

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It also wants to see a meeting urgently set up between Shetland Islands Council, HIAL and Scottish Government ministers.

The motion centres on plans by government-owned HIAL to modernise air traffic control services at Sumburgh, and a number of other airports in the Highlands and Islands, by moving them to a central facility in Inverness.

SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith.
Councillor George Smith.

A recently published islands impact assessment highlighted that the plans would bring the potential loss of at least 17 well-paid full-time equivalent jobs at Sumburgh Airport with a total gross salary of £670,000.

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This would have a “very significant impact” on Shetland’s economy, the report said, and could result in the loss of households.

Smith’s motion, due to be presented to a meeting of the full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday, says: “Shetland Islands Council notes with extreme concern the findings of the independent Islands impact assessment carried out for HIAL on the proposed centralisation of their Air Traffic Management System.

“The report states that HIAL’s proposals will have ‘very significant’ negative impacts for Shetland. It is time for the Scottish Government to demonstrate that the requirements of the Islands Act are more than mere words on paper.

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“Island communities impact assessments are carried out for a purpose and their findings must be valued and respected.

“Shetland Islands Council therefore calls on the Scottish Government to require HIAL to pause these proposals in order to give proper consideration to the findings of the Islands Impact Assessment and as a first step asks that the Scottish Government convene as a matter of urgency a meeting with Shetland Islands Council, HIAL and the relevant government ministers.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, meanwhile, raised the matter with first minister Nicola Sturgeon this week.

The first minister stated that modernisation of air traffic control was needed and that an independent island communities assessment was complete.

A petition launched by the Shetland MSP has now gathered over 1,000 signatures of people who are against the plans. 

HIAL has said that its board had accepted the potential impacts on local employment and economies and agreed with the further recommendations to explore where HIAL’s operations can create more economic activity for island communities.

It said it also intends to commission an independent study to identify where that can be done, specifically for Lewis, Orkney, Shetland and Uist.

Managing director Inglis Lyon said: “We have always known there would be impacts by undertaking such a significant and complex change management programme.

“To date, there have been no alternative proposals that provide a solution that fully addresses all of the challenges HIAL currently faces.”

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