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Transport / HIAL-Prospect deal to undergo further scrutiny

The citizen participation and public petitions committee on Wednesday morning.

FURTHER evidence will be heard by the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee after doubts were voiced about the motives behind Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd cancelling plans to centralise air traffic control services at Inverness.

The committee met on Wednesday morning and agreed to again invite representatives from HIAL and trade union Prospect.

Meeting after both HIAL and Prospect announced last week that agreement had been reached on an alternative way forward regarding the future of air traffic control, committee members remained sceptical.

Over recent days the organisers of the original petition, lodged in 2020, urged the committee to continue scrutinising HIAL’s Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) after raising concern over the timescale of the changes, the £9 million already spent, the implementation of surveillance radar and controlled air space.

The committee will now also write to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and airport users such as Loganair to hear what they make of the changes to HIAL’s ATMS project.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said local people certainly had raised doubts as to HIAL’s commitment and had expressed some “deep anxiety” as to whether local jobs had been saved long-term.

“While the immediate threat of job losses has been lifted, recent announcements by HIAL have given rise to more questions than answers,” he said after the meeting.

“No-one disputes the need to modernise air traffic services, but having insisted that centralisation was the only viable option, it’s not now clear what HIAL’s strategy is. Even the CAA has called into question some of the assumptions being made by HIAL about what might be feasible.

“Meanwhile, HIAL has managed to spend millions of pounds of public money on a project that was doomed from the outset.  This includes the purchase of a building in Inverness for £3.6m that is now surplus to requirements.

“Hopefully the committee can get to the bottom of how things have been allowed to go so badly wrong.  HIAL also needs to remove any possibility of the remote tower proposals making a reappearance in future.

His comments were echoed by Labour’s Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant who also raised concern over the status of the Wick and Benbecula airports, and called on HIAL to focus on local recruitment to fill vacant posts in air traffic control.