HIAL: Where is the accountability to the public when there has been no consultation ? 

HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd) has come in for a barrage of criticism  after announcing their plans to centralise Air Traffic Control in Inverness. Closure of Air Traffic Control Towers Puts Vital Air Services At Risk

The development is being called by HIAL the Air Traffic Management Plan.

HIAL state:

The implementation and delivery of the remote tower and surveillance centre is the largest and most complex project we have ever undertaken. Staff and unions, airport managers and senior HIAL personnel have been involved throughout the process. The Scottish Government and local politicians have also been kept informed.

Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem said:

“HIAL’s decision to press ahead with these plans appears to have been predetermined from the start, despite serious concerns being raised over cost, reliability and safety.  The views of local ATC staff in Orkney, and across the network, have been disregarded throughout this process.

“The level of anger and disillusionment amongst ATC staff also calls into question the ability of HIAL to deliver plans that their own advisers have made clear is the most costly and risky option. No one disputes the need to modernise air traffic control services, but HIAL’s approach puts at risk these lifeline services upon which our island and rural communities rely”

“I will be urging Ministers and HIAL Management to urgently re-evaluate this decision and to start putting the needs and views of those who depend on these lifeline services first”.

HIAL, however, state that they have engaged in a “thorough engagement process” and this will continue as they will be meeting with “staff, partners, local representatives and MSPs over the next week”.

Local MSP Rhoda Grant, Labour, has raised doubts about the reliability of the digital technology involved.

Rhoda GrantRhoda Grant said:

“I have been told that this project relies on superhigh bandwith to succeed.  We all know that many of our remote and rural areas do not have this so how can HIAL press on regardless?  

“The proposals to downgrade services at Wick and Benbecula are astounding given the localities have been earmarked as space ports. These decisions also fly in the face of the Scottish Government’s own recently published Islands Plan which seeks to protect and improve services and employment in island communities.

“HIAL appears to be intent on pushing this through despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option.

“While this decision fits with the Scottish Government’s determination to centralise services out of local areas, it is an appalling decision and HIAL and the Scottish Government must stop these plans right now before remote air services are jeopardised and more local jobs are taken out of rural communities.”

Wick airport by JThomas

Wick Airport credit: J Thomas

At Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats, the level of air traffic service will be ‘revised’ from an Air Traffic Control (ATC) service to an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS), “similar to that currently used at our airports at Campbeltown, Islay, Tiree and Barra.”

The Prospect trade union has significant concerns over the safety of the plans and employment. In particular they have highlighted:

  • Safety at Benbecula is being reduced by HIAL not increased as was originally promised at the start of this project.
  • A Transport Scotland statement says that “HIAL has engaged extensively with staff, local authorities and other stakeholders throughout the process and we expect them to continue to engage and consult as it implements the programme.” This is not the case. HIAL has not consulted staff, communities or users on the strategic direction of the project, it has only consulted on how to implement the decision it had already taken.
  • Prospect also questions the deliverability of the remote towers plan without the need for compulsory redundancies and a substantial hit to high value jobs in local communities. In a Prospect survey only 29% of HIAL controllers express an interest in relocating/commuting to the new centre in Inverness. Controllers at all seven sites cannot be compelled to be relocated but are at risk of compulsory redundancy if they do not.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said:

“Having taken its workers for granted there are also huge questions over how HIAL will manage to staff its new set up. A survey of Prospect air traffic controllers showed just 29% willing to relocate. There are already recruitment problems in the area – it is hard to see how HIAL will be able to recruit and retain the talent it will require to maintain services at their current level.”

HIAL have already identified New Century House in Inverness as the central hub for the service and hope to have purchased it in the near future. It will require extensive renovation and development.

Inglis Lyon, HIAL managing director said:

“The strategic programme decisions made by the HIAL Board will move us into the implementation phase of the project and allow detailed operational decisions to be made.”

Which proves the point made by Prospect trade union that the consultation by HIAL is only on the implementation of what they have already decided.

Inglis Lyon continued:

““Our focus continues to be, on aviation service delivery and providing a safe, modern and efficient means of handling aircraft for the regions and the islands in the future.”

Highland and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is a public corporation wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers.

The company operates and manages 11 Airports at Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Islay, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick. HIAL’s airports are vital to the social and economic welfare of the areas they serve, but are loss making, and are supported by subsidies from the Scottish Government in accordance with Section 34 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982

The public appears to be opposed to the centralisation of Air Traffic Control to Inverness. Trade unions representing the people who work for HIAL have stated their concerns and opposition to the move.

This is an organisation actually owned by Scottish Ministers who are elected by the very public who are against this project.

What has happened to the Islands Act,  and islands proofing in all this?

How can HIAL’s decision be at all compatible with the National Islands Plan? There doesn’t appear to be anything in it about the removal of  Air Traffic Control from our islands to centralise it in Inverness.

And where is the accountability to the public when there has been no consultation ?

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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