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Politics / MSP seeks clarity on the true cost of HIAL’s stalled remote tower project

The remote tower technology has been introduced to a number of airports across the world such as Örnsköldsviks, in Sweden, as shown here.

SHETLAND MSP Beatrice Wishart is to write to Scottish transport minister Graeme Dey asking for an exact breakdown of the public funds that have been spent on the remote tower project for airports in the Highlands and Islands.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News.

Government-owned operator Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) has now confirmed that the tender process for the hugely controversial project has been cancelled.

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In a parliamentary response to Orkney MSP Liam McArthur the transport minister confirmed that millions had been spent since January 2018 on pursuing HIAL’s air traffic management strategy project.

Wishart said spending £9 million appeared to be “an expensive lesson” to learn that centralising air traffic control to a remote tower in Inverness “was not the most suitable [project] for the Highlands and Islands”.

Under the proposal the three island airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway would have lost out significantly with air traffic controller posts moving to Inverness.

The project was fiercely opposed by local communities and the air traffic controller union Prospect which last autumn reached an agreement with HIAL to halt the project and to discuss alternatives.

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Wishart said: “I am writing to the transport minister to ask for a breakdown of the reported £9 million. It is important to understand how public funds have been used and if they have been wasted.

“If money has been wasted, could that have been avoided?

“There were so many voices, including my own, from across the Highlands and Islands and from all parties and none, that told the Scottish Government to stop and think again about the project.”

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Isles MP Alisatir Carmichael added: “It appears that the costly and unnecessary centralisation plan has ended for now, not with a bang but with a whimper. Despite HIAL’s prolonged campaign of derision and dismissal against local people concerned about the risk posed to safety and to our local economies, I am glad that some measure of common sense has broken out.

Alistair Carmichael
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

“Even so this can only be claimed as a partial victory. We need first to know exactly how many millions have been tossed away in the pursuit of this flawed exercise. We need to know if or when HIAL intends to restart centralisation should it have another opportunity in the future.

A spokesperson for HIAL said: “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.”

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