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Transport / HIAL board discussing air traffic control options as it releases breakdown of £9m spend

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL
Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

THE HIGHLANDS and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) board is meeting today (Monday) to discuss options around its controversial remote air traffic control project – and it says it hopes to reach a “compromise” with the Prospect union.

Meanwhile the government-owned company has also now published the breakdown of its £9 million spend so far on its ATMS project.

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This includes more than £2 million in project team staff costs, while the purchase of New Century House in Inverness – which would accommodate all aspects of the programme – set HIAL back £2.6 million.

HIAL set out to modernise air traffic control at Sumburgh, and a number of other airports in the region, by moving them to a central facility in Inverness and delivering services remotely.

Image: HIAL

But after fierce criticism, concern over island jobs and industrial action the project was paused to discuss alternatives in consultation with the Prospect union.

Earlier this year it was confirmed the procurement process for remote towers had been cancelled.

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The £9 million spend figures, released this morning by HIAL, covers the period to 30 November 2021.

More than two thirds have gone on capital expenditure, including £324,051 on training simulator and centre set up costs.

The spend on the actual remote tower solution itself is just shy of £230,000, and this covers the procurement process.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart previously 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”.

Meanwhile chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee Ryan Thomson said it was an “ill thought out scheme”.

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HIAL said in addition to releasing the expenditure figures that the ATMS project is a “complex and significant” management change programme, and that the remote towers element is one strand of this.

“The financial investment in the programme thus far provides a stable platform to move forward with the essential modernisation of air traffic services in the Highlands and Islands,” it said.

“The investment is already benefiting the organisation and providing resilience through the recruitment of seven Ab-initio staff (trainee air traffic controllers) for the modernisation programme and who are supporting operations for Sumburgh, Dundee, Wick and Kirkwall airports.”

The airport operator also said equipment and training has been used as part of the project for radar approach services at Sumburgh Airport.

The service is currently provided by NATS from Aberdeen but it will be delivered in-house at the end of the current contract.

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