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Highland and Islands Airports cancels controversial plans for a single remote air traffic control base in Inverness but the city's airport is likely to get the new technology at some stage

By Scott Maclennan

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Inverness Airport.
Inverness Airport.

Plans to run air traffic control remotely for the whole of the Highlands and Islands from Inverness have effectively been cancelled, it has been confirmed.

Highlands and Islands Airports (Hial) and Transport Minister Graeme Dey confirmed the development, which was apparently reached back in October.

The tender exercise for the controversial remote tower technology has been cancelled for the time being.

But plans to base remote air traffic control for Inverness Airport at New Century House near the Kessock Bridge are expected to go ahead.

While those airports, like Sumburgh in Shetland, with air traffic controllers will keep them – a move that is seen as a victory for some campaigners.

The changes were triggered by the agreement reached between Hial and the Prospect Union to find a new way forward amid years of acrimony over the plans.

That deal effectively made the development of remote air traffic control too uncertain for the tender process to continue and it has now been cancelled.

A Hial spokesman said: “We contacted the companies involved in the remote tower procurement in October to confirm that the tender exercise had been halted.

“We considered it would be inappropriate and unfair to expect tenderers to remain engaged in the procurement process given the circumstances where the timescale, scope and extent of possible future remote air traffic provision is yet to be agreed by all key stakeholders.

“As and when we have outcomes from ongoing discussions with our air traffic colleagues and the trade union we will assess our future requirements to help deliver sustainable air services to the communities we serve.

“We have been clear that Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) is the best option to maintain the long-term sustainability of air services for the Highlands and Islands.

"Nevertheless, we are committed to working with Prospect and our air traffic control colleagues to try and develop a new solution involving compromise by both sides.

“We would encourage those with an interest in ensuring the delivery of a safe, resilient, and sustainable air traffic operation for island communities to recognise the delicate nature of these negotiations and engage in constructive dialogue to reach that end.”

Mr Dey said: Graeme Dey said: “Hial’s Air Traffic Management 2030 Strategy is a long-term programme consisting of numerous different individual projects.

“Some of these projects include one or more procurement exercises. Across the programme as a whole some procurement exercises have concluded, some are ongoing and some have not started yet.

“Following the announcement of the joint agreement between Hial and Prospect to establish a new way forward, Hial contacted those companies involved in the Remote Tower procurement to confirm that the tender exercise had been cancelled.

“Hial felt it would be inappropriate and unfair to expect tenderers to remain engaged in the procurement process in circumstances where the timescale for, and scope and extent of possible future remote air traffic provision is unclear.”

Related Story – Air Traffic Control plans for centralisation still under scrutiny says Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant

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