Fears of Spiralling Costs Haunts HIAL’s Remote Towers Project

Spiralling costs, the safety of using untested technology and the impact on local communities of the loss of well paid jobs were the three main themes to come out of yesterday’s Scottish Parliament committee which was looking into HIAL’s Remote Towers Project.

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee revisited the issue of HIAL and Remote Towers yesterday, 16th of December.

The Petition is:

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to halt Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd’s Air Traffic Management Strategy Project to conduct an independent assessment of the decisions and decision-making process of the ATMS project.

It was brought by Alasdair MacEachen, John Doig and Peter Henderson on behalf of Benbecula Community Council.

You can read about the first consideration of the petition by the committee here: Petitions Committee Hears ‘Troubling Evidence Session’ Against HIAL’s Remote Towers

It was due to the evidence the committee heard at that meeting that they wanted to revisit the issue.

There has been a huge response to the committees request for more evidence so far.

HIAL, which is owned by the Scottish Government, intends to centralise its remote tower technology in Inverness whilst also downgrading the airports in Benbecula and Wick.

HIAL has the support of the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister, Michael Matheson, who ” is satisfied that the HIAL Board has taken its decisions based on the best available information and analysis of the different options available.”

The committee of cross party MSPs was not satisfied – not in the least. They heard additional comment from Liam McArthur MSP, LibDem; Rhoda Grant MSP, Labour; and Gail Ross MSP, SNP who all represent areas which will be deeply affected by the HIAL project.

In their written submission to the committee HIAL contest the charge that the technology is unsafe:

The operator states that the suggestion that remote digital tower technology as unsafe and untested is uninformed and misleading. It explains that the technology has been operational since 2015 and that there are currently four other multiple airport digital tower operations in service or development in Scandinavia and the United States of America.

The committee heard that Norway and Sweden, who use this technology, have excellent broadband connectivity and that what HIAL is proposing differs in that it is taking place mainly in island communities.

It was revealed during the meeting that the Islands Impact Assessment – which should take place before any development – has been retrospectively done and although now complete it will not go before the board of HIAL till February of 2021. This falls very far short of what should be expected of the spirit of the legislation in the Islands Act.

The spiralling costs were flagged up by all the MSPs. This would be public money that is being spent and there is no idea of what the eventual costs may be.

The Public Petitions Committee decided that both HIAL and Transport Scotland (including the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister) should appear so that the MSPs can question them face to face (albeit virtually).

They also want a public audit to take place to get some kind of idea of these ‘eye watering’ costs. As for safety, the committee want to find out from the Civil Aviation Authority, what their views are on this aspect of the project.

Then there is the impact on the local communities where good jobs would be removed and those workers, including their families, would have to move to Inverness, or lose their employment.

You can watch the meeting here:

Control tower and apron, Benbecula Airport by David Martin

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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