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Transport / HIAL says it is focused on ‘best practice’ after critical report published on air traffic control project

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

HIGHLANDS and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) has again been forced to defend its plans to centralise air traffic control after a new report brought fresh doubts over the controversial project.

A report from Digital Scotland said there are “major risks” apparent in a number of key areas which need urgent action.

In response, HIAL chief operating officer Gary Cobb claimed “ten of the 12 recommendations identified in the review have been actioned with good progress on the outstanding recommendations”.

The project aims to centralise air traffic control services in much of the Highlands and Islands to a centre in Inverness.

For Sumburgh Airport this would mean its air traffic control is dealt with by staff in Inverness, and it could lead to Shetland losing 17 full-time equivalent jobs.

The Digital Scotland report identified 12 recommendations for improvement.

There was concern raised over a “lack of clear coherent visibility and transparency across the programme”, while it said there are “significant shortfalls in programme management including risk management, planning and resource”.

“The level of resourcing and skills and capabilities are currently well below what would be required for a programme of this size, complexity and criticality,” the report added.

Shetland’s two Liberal Democrat parliamentarians said the report was another example of why the project should be halted.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said: “The best that you can say about the HIAL executive’s plans to cut jobs and resilience away from islands air traffic control is that at least they are not very good at executing those plans.

“That is small comfort when you consider the sheer amount of money thrown at centralisation by HIAL and the SNP.

“How many damning reports will it take for HIAL and the SNP to set aside their obsession with undermining island communities?”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, meanwhile, said HIAL’s own island impact assessment on the plans listed a “series of serious negative impacts for Shetland, ranging from job losses to  effects on the local economy”.

“No positive impacts were noted. That in itself should stop HIAL from pursuing this unpopular project. To continue onwards disregards the island impact assessment not to mention the views of people in Shetland who have been vocal in their opposition.”

Cobb said following the report’s publication that progress has already been made on the recommendations.

“The review team, which is independent of the ATMS [Air Traffic Management Strategy] programme and accredited by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, made recommendations relating to programme management, governance, resourcing, procurement and strategic oversight and assurance.

“We welcomed and agreed the recommendations and immediately actioned them. Ten of the 12 recommendations identified in the review have been actioned with good progress on the outstanding recommendations.

“We will continue to work with the DAO [Scottish Government’s Digital Assurance Office] for the duration of the ATMS project, and the date for the next review is currently being scheduled.

“As an organisation, we are focused on applying learning and embracing best practice and external governance and oversight will be a feature of the ATMS programme as it progresses.”