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Transport / HIAL’s remote tower tender process cancelled

Under the remote tower project air traffic control services would be provided via computer screen based at a remote location.

THE SCOTTISH Government has confirmed that the tender exercise for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s (HIAL) controversial remote tower project has been cancelled.

This follows a joint announcement by HIAL and the Prospect union in October last year that following industrial action there was an agreement on a new way forward in the controversy over the airport operator’s plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness.

Transport minister Graeme Dey has now confirmed following a parliamentary question lodged by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur that HIAL has contacted companies involved in the procurement process “to confirm that the tender process has been cancelled”.

A freedom of information request by Shetland News last year revealed that HIAL had already spent more than £6 million on the project between April 2018 and November 2020. This has now risen to £9 million.

Bill for remote air traffic control project tops £6m so far

The centralisation of air traffic control to a remote tower in an office block at the outskirts of Inverness would have affected air traffic controllers at Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Dundee and Inverness.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur delivering Tavish Scott's speech in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday - Photo: Holyrood TV
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

Island communities were united in their opposition to the plans with the loss of high quality employment and digital connectivity issues the main concerns.

McArthur said: “For years, HIAL and SNP ministers insisted that centralisation was the only option for modernising air traffic services across the Highlands and Islands. That was never the case and finally the government and HIAL have been forced to come clean.

“Confirmation by the minister that the ‘remote tower’ procurement has been cancelled is welcome.

“It comes, however, only after millions in public funds have been spent on an ill-conceived vanity project opposed across parties and the communities most directly affected.

“No-one disputes the need to modernise air traffic services, which support operations on our lifeline air routes. Sadly, months and millions have been wasted by SNP ministers and HIAL on a centralisation that was never going to get off the ground.”

A spokesperson for HIAL responded: “We contacted the companies involved in the remote tower procurement in October to confirm that the tender exercise had been halted.  We considered it would be inappropriate and unfair to expect tenderers to remain engaged in the procurement process given the circumstances where the timescale, scope and extent of possible future remote air traffic provision is yet to be agreed by all key stakeholders.

“As and when we have outcomes from ongoing discussions with our air traffic colleagues and the trade union we will assess our future requirements to help deliver sustainable air services to the communities we serve.”

“We have been clear that ATMS is the best option to maintain the long-term sustainability of air services for the Highlands and Islands. Nevertheless, we are committed to working with Prospect and our air traffic control colleagues to try and develop a new solution involving compromise by both sides.

“We would encourage those with an interest in ensuring the delivery of a safe, resilient, and sustainable air traffic operation for island communities to recognise the delicate nature of these negotiations and engage in constructive dialogue to reach that end.”