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Transport / Talks over air traffic control dispute warmly welcomed

Council transport committee chairman says halting the project is the only ‘logical outcome’

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

NEWS that talks are ongoing in a bid to resolve the dispute over plans to centralise air traffic control in the Highlands and Islands has been welcomed across the political spectrum.

SNP Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick said it is “vital that we work together to keep people in their jobs and combat depopulation in our region”.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL), which is effectively owned by the SNP-led Scottish Government, confirmed on Monday that it is engaging with the Prospect union to look at “possible alternative method of delivery” for its divisive remote towers project.

The plans would see air traffic control services at a number of airports in the region, including Sumburgh, controlled remotely from Inverness.

This has led to concerns from the communities impacted and their political representatives, including the expected drain of well-paid jobs from the islands.

Scottish Greens regional MSP Ariane Burgess said she was “heartened” that negotiations were taking place.

“Communication about the modernising of the air traffic control services has been dreadful on HIAL’s part and I look forward to hearing what constructive progress comes out of these talks,” she said.

Labour’s Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “It is obviously early days so we need to wait and see if this is lip service or concerns are genuinely being listened too, but given the previous reluctance from HIAL to even discuss the matter I am hopeful that this is a step in the right direction and proper consultation with employees and affected communities can begin.”

At a more local level Shetland Islands Council has previously expressed its concern over the plans.

Chairman of its environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said it was “not before time” that HIAL looked at alternatives.

“Staff, local representatives, local politicians, local communities and individuals have all expressed not only a deep concern regarding this potentially unsafe and deeply problematic plan,” he said.

“Once this has been knocked on the head once and for all, which is the only logical outcome, it’s time we liaised with the Scottish Government about the future of HIAL, and its representatives, many/most of which have never set foot in Shetland.

“A complete overhaul of the board, which should include island representatives who understand first hand the complexities of island life and our lifeline links is the only way HIAL could be deemed fit for purpose for our islands.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has been contacted for comment.