Closure of Air Traffic Control Towers Puts Vital Air Services At Risk

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is announcing proposals to shut air traffic towers in the Highlands and Islands, relocating them all to a remote site in Inverness up to 300 miles away.

The proposals also involve downgrading air traffic services at Benbecula and Wick airports.

Prospect, which represents air traffic control staff at HIAL airports, says the proposals are poorly thought-through, have not been consulted on, and will put the long-term future of vital services at risk.

There are two sets of major announcements from HIAL:

  1. The timetable for the closure of the air traffic control towers as part of the Remote Towers Project.
  2. A review of the service provision at Wick and Benbecula with the possibility of downgrading the station to a Flight Information Service Officer (FISO) service. A FISO only service offers no deconfliction service to keep aircraft out of each other’s path, simply offering pilots information about airfields and weather conditions. This service downgrade will likely result in up to 10 redundancies across the two airfields, many of whom are long-term members of the communities they serve.

No consultation has been entered into with local communities in the Highlands and Islands, local politicians or with HIAL’s customers, despite the highly controversial nature of the proposals.

Analysis from Prospect suggests that moving air traffic control to Inverness will remove up to 60 skilled jobs and around £1.5m of direct employment from rural and island economies.

This runs contrary to the intention of the government’s recently published Islands Plan. This is despite the fact that HIAL is owned by the Scottish Government.

Prospect also fears that going down this route will reduce the safety and resilience of air traffic control across the Highlands by relying on a single centre and a single point of failure.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said:

“The proposals to downgrade services at Wick and Benbecula are staggering.

“They fly against the government’s own recently published island plan which seeks to protect and improve services and employment in island communities. Within these small communities the loss of even a few jobs like this is the equivalent of losing several hundred jobs in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

“It is inconceivable that such far-reaching changes can be brought in with the paltry level of consultation and transparency we have seen. For a government-owned company to treat its workers, customers, and local communities in this way is absolutely staggering. Prospect will not stand by and allow HIAL to downgrade Scotland’s islands with this threat to their air services and their economy.

“At the same time as Prospect members were voting to accept a pay deal which included a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, the HIAL board have decided to implement these changes which will inevitably lead to redundancies.

“Members will see this as a betrayal by the board.”

Wick airport by JThomas

Wick Airport credit: J Thomas

4 replies »

  1. Do these proposals mean that ‘Approach/Local Control’ and ‘Ground Movement Control’ will no longer be located at Sumburgh, Kirkwall, etc? There is nothing more reassuring too, even, experienced pilots of hearing the voice of the ATC at any airport!!!

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