MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee have today, 8th September, agreed to continue to probe into Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s (HIAL) deeply unpopular Remote Towers Project.
The project which will see the removal of air traffic controllers from airports run by HIAL to a central base – a Remote Tower – in Inverness – was severely criticised even by HIAL’s own commissioned Islands Impact Assessment. Damning Impact Assessment: ‘significant uncertainties’ in HIAL Remote Towers Project
Appearing before the committee Orkney Constituency MSP, Liam McArthur, LibDem, urged that the petition is kept open and cited HIAL’s lack of willingness to listen to the ‘deep, deep concerns’ across all the communities affected.
Liam McArthur commented that no one was saying that modernisation was not needed but that the Remote Tower concept was the only one being considered by HIAL who had rejected all other ideas. He said that the Islands Impact Assessment, a condition of the Islands Act, recorded that there were no positive benefits for Orkney with the project. He was also concerned about the auditing of the scheme which is costing millions of pounds of public money.
Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands commented on the downgrading of both Wick and Benbecula Airports which will become served only by a flight information service. Rhoda Grant said that having only scheduled flights with a prescribed slot will have serious implications for the oil sector (which uses Wick) and for the Ministry of Defence (which has a base of national importance on Benbecula.)
She itemised several areas for the committee to investigate further:
- the economic impact
- the feasibility of staff commuting (as proposed by HIAL)
- recruitment issues in Inverness where the Remote Tower would be based
- the auditing of the costs of the project
- the safety of Remote Towers due to Digital Scotland saying it was an Amber/Red risk.
The committee have agreed to take the petition forward and to write to the Civil Aviation Authority about the safety of Remote Towers. Digital Scotland will also be written to on this aspect of the project.
The Scottish Government who are fully supportive of HIAL’s Remote Towers Project will also be written to and asked about the status of the scheme now and what is happening with the financing of it.
HIAL is a private company wholly owned by Scottish Government Ministers. Air Traffic Controllers, members of the Prospect trade union, have taken industrial action – including striking – over the project. The Scottish Greens who previously opposed the project have said that although they are now serving in the Scottish Government that they will continue with their opposition. On recent visits to both Stornoway and Kirkwall, Scotland’s new Transport Minister, Graeme Dey, did not meet with air traffic controllers at both airports despite the opposition to the project across the whole Highlands and Islands region.