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Air Traffic Control plans for centralisation still under scrutiny says Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant after she gave a compelling statement against Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd's (Hial) ATMS centralisation plans to the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee

By Ian Duncan

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Rhoda Grant MSP.
Rhoda Grant MSP.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has given a compelling statement against Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) ATMS centralisation plans to the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee.

Mrs Grant was speaking yesterday in support of a cross-community petition which is asking the Scottish Government to halt the controversial plans to centralise Highlands and Islands Air Traffic Control in Inverness, leaving local airports to be monitored remotely.

The MSP reported that having spoken to petitioners following the announcement that Hial were in discussions to review their plans there were still grave concerns, not least because Hial had purchased building assets in Inverness intended for the project’s delivery.

Mrs Grant said: “It is widely believed that Hial are not looking for a meaningful solution that does not involve remote towers. Remote towers has not been ruled out at any of the other airports. They are merely being postponed for up to five years by Hial in the hope that the problems dogging the project will be resolved by then. Delays will only drive up the costs involved.

“Hial want to downgrade Wick and Benbecula airports from an Air Traffic Control Service to a Flight Information Service. The impact on the community served by Benbecula will be profound and Wick will suffer a drop in traffic and may have difficulty finding an airline to operate the proposed PSO routes.”

Mrs Grant said that a petitioner had described the plans as a “juggernaut yet it rolls on leaving damage in its wake” and asked that as well as contacting Hial to get a clearer breakdown of its plans regarding surveillance and remote towers, that the committee continue to keep the petition open so that it could provide scrutiny whenever the project began to inch forward again.

The petition has been considered six times since it was first lodged in March 2020, and despite Hial’s recent announcement that it would review it’s plans in five years, the cross party committee agreed to keep the petition open due to concerns raised by petitioners, Rhoda Grant and Liam Macarthur MSP. It also agreed to approach airport operators, including local flight clubs to ascertain their views on the project. It also agreed to ask Hial what alternative options it was looking at, to ensure that robust consideration was being given to alternative proposals.

Following the committee Mrs Grant said: “Despite Hial kicking their ATMS plans into the long grass to try and take some of the heat and energy out of the oppositional arguments, I’m relieved that the committee will continue to keep an eye on what is going on.

“It is a shambles of monumental proportions – one which is costing time, and money and not even meeting the actual requirements of the CAA, let alone those of communities. What’s worse is that they’ve been warned about this for years and still tried to bulldoze it through.

"Once they discovered brute force wouldn’t work they’re now trying the sneaky route round. I can guarantee that they have seriously underestimated the communities of the Highlands and Islands if they think that will work.”

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