Plans for a centralised air traffic control system in the Highlands and Islands could benefit the Western Isles, says SNP MSP Alasdair Allan today (Wednesday January 10th).

“I am due to meet with HIAL next week to hear more about their future plans for air traffic control in the Highlands and Islands.

“While this is a long-term plan, I understand concerns about potential future job losses to the islands and I am very willing to meet the workforce about any concerns they may have.

“If there is to be a central hub for air traffic control in the Highlands and Islands, it should not be accepted as a done deal that this would be located in Inverness.

“HIAL have indicated they are yet to decide on this, so I would like to see them give real and serious consideration to locating such a facility in the islands.”

Earlier it was claimed that Air Traffic Control towers at Stornoway and Benbecula Airports look to become a thing of the past as Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) was set to ‘future proof’ its operations by creating the UK’s first centralised Remote Tower Centre.

But Alasdair Allan makes the point that it could just as well be Inverness airport that loses its air traffic control facility.

The £28million long term remote towers and centralised approach surveillance control programme is set to be implemented over the next 15 years, and mirrors an already successful project in Sweden.

It is set to transform HIAL operations and key airports, including Stornoway, Inverness and Dundee as the HIAL Board agreed to the move in principle on Monday, January 8th and will now hold talks with staff, stakeholder groups and politicians around the implementation of the project.

There will be no immediate changes to the existing HIAL operations the airport operators stress. And they said on Monday that no decisions have been made in terms of the location of the proposed operational centre which would cover HIAL airports at Sumburgh, Wick John O’ Groats, and Kirkwall, as well as Dundee, Inverness, Stornoway and Benbecula.

HIAL airports at Barra, Tiree, Islay and Campbeltown will not be affected by the changes as they have different levels of air traffic usage.

HIAL Chair, Lorna Jack, said on Monday: “This is a major investment for the business, but an investment which is required to ensure that we do what we are here to do which is to keep people flying, to ensure the long-term future of the business and our people and to continue to deliver new opportunities for the people of the Highlands and Islands and Tayside to connect with new locations around the globe.

“Increasing traffic demands as well as resultant regulatory changes within the aviation industry means that to do nothing is not an option and we will work with our people and all stakeholder groups to ensure that the proposals work for all involved.

“This is an opportunity to invest in new high-tech skills as well as in new technology and our people will have the opportunity to be involved in delivering the Air Traffic Controllers of the future.”