Comhairle nan Eilean Siar continue to pressure both the Scottish and UK Governments regarding Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) Ltd proposals for a centralised air traffic tower system – and the potential loss of over 20 jobs in the Western Isles.
The Comhairle is to continue making representations to both Governments due to concerns over the arrangements and preferred option proposed by HIAL for the future of its air traffic management arrangement.
The local authority is concerned about HIAL’s proposal for remote tower and centralised approach surveillance technology as part of the company’s 2030 strategy.
Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “The Comhairle is concerned at the potential loss of a significant number of high quality, well paid jobs in the Islands.
“Our understanding is that a total of 17 posts could be lost directly from our community which, in as fragile an economy as the Outer Hebrides, would be a substantial impact.
“A further four posts could be lost through indirect and induced impacts.”
Cllr Robertson continued: “We also have concerns about a Centralised monitoring system given the shortcomings in the reliability, resilience and security of existing communications infrastructure.
“There may also be implications for QinetiQ’s operations at the MOD Hebrides range and this has not been explored in HIAL’s Scoping Study.”
Despite seeking reassurances from HIAL and governments, Cllr Robertson said the council is still awaiting replies: “The only response we have so far received is from the Scottish Government and I find it disappointing that they have not responded more positively to our concerns in light of the fact that, once again, jobs are in danger of being lost to the Islands and transferred to the mainland.
“As we recently highlighted to CalMac, the Islands desperately need work opportunities, particularly high skilled, high quality jobs which could go a long way to sustaining the fragile economy of the Islands.”
The council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee agreed yesterday (Wednesday, March 21st) to continue to make representations to the UK and Scottish Governments regarding the Comhairle’s concerns associated with the arrangements and preferred option proposed by HIAL.
Update - 3pm, Thursday, 22nd February:-
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has also voiced his concerns about the HIAL proposals to move to a system of Remote Air Traffic Control Towers.
In a recent letter to HIAL’s Managing Director, Alasdair Allan has questioned HIAL over the justifications of this proposal, and raised concerns about the economic impact this could have in Benebcula and Stornoway.
Dr Allan said: “When I met with HIAL’s Managing Director and Chair about this proposal earlier this month, I was keen to stress that there are concerns about the potential for the islands to lose high-quality well-paid jobs.
“My Westminster colleague Angus MacNeil MP and I have met with members of the workforces who are concerned not only about future employment, but also about how feasible or desirable such a system would be in the long run.
“HIAL have cited recruitment challenges as one of the motivations for this proposal, but this is an issue the industry as a whole faces and it is hard to accept this is something unique to the islands.”
He continued: “It is also troubling that Benbecula is earmarked as the first airport to transition to remote operation.
“It would appear to be one of the airports with the best level of staff retention, minimal maintenance costs and it has the additional complication of significant military activity at both the airport and in the surrounding area.
“While I welcome the fact HIAL have agreed to undertake a social impact assessment, there are still a great number of question marks around this proposal, and I hope that they will engage further with key stakeholders and the affected communities on these points,” Dr Allan added.