Scottish regions close in on remote ATC

Scottish regional airports are to receive around £28 million in remote air traffic management technology.

State-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) said it is to “future proof” its operations in Scotland with the investment for the next 10 to 15 years.

It said the long-term remote towers and centralised approach surveillance control programme will transform operations at airports including Inverness, Sumburgh, Dundee, Wick John O’Groats, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Benbecula.

The HIAL Board agreed on January 7 to the move in principle and will now hold further talks with staff, stakeholder groups and politicians around the implementation of the project.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Our overriding priority is, and will always be, to deliver safe and secure air navigation services that will keep our airports open for local communities for the long term.

“Having already involved our air traffic control staff and key stakeholders in the full review of our air traffic management operations by aviation consultancy Helios, the board have agreed in principle with the Helios recommendation to further pursue the remote towers solution.”

Airports at Barra, Tiree, Islay and Campbeltown will not be affected by the changes.

The four main elements of the HIAL strategy originally featured the replacement of standalone procedural air traffic services with a single centralised surveillance service; remote rowers at all eleven airports in addition to a remote tower centre; the introduction of controlled airspace at all seven controlled aerodromes and an out of hours centralised AFISO on-call service.

David Avery from the Prospect union said that while Prospect supported HIAL’s need to modernise its infrastructure to keep up pace with regulations “any centralised monitoring system will be dependent on a reliable, resilient and secure communications infrastructure between the mainland and the island which simply does not exist”.

“HIAL are gambling on this and Prospect believes this is gambling with people’s safety,” he said, adding: “Air traffic control provides high-quality, skilled, highly-paid employment in the islands with many controllers recruited and trained locally. Centralisation will remove these roles from the islands. We do not believe the report has given sufficient weight to these considerations and HIAL’s role as an employer in the Highlands and Islands.”

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