A DECISION to select Inverness as the new site for a remote air traffic control centre in the Highlands has been described as “a kick in the teeth” for Wick John O’Groats Airport.
Local MSP Gail Ross expressed her dismay at the announcement by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) and is concerned about the impact it could have on the far north.
She said: “I have written to Hial to ask for specific details on the consultation process and about the criteria for choosing Inverness over all other airports. While I appreciate that Inverness is the larger and most busy airport, there is a real public perception that, at present, Inverness gets a lot of public money spent on it in terms of development and jobs, to the detriment of other regional airports.”
The Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP added: “I have consistently made the case that Wick John O’Groats Airport should be considered as a real possibility for the future of the air traffic control service in the Highlands, not least because of the real benefit and impact it would have on the socio-economic climate of the county.
“We need sustainable, quality jobs and I am worried that this decision will limit many who have seen themselves as having a career in the aviation industry in the Highlands to only being based in Inverness.”
Mrs Ross added: “In May, the rural economy and connectivity committee, of which I am vice-chair, took evidence on this issue and were assured by the then minister, Humza Yousaf, that a full consultation and scoping exercise would take place and that there would be no decisions made until this work was carried out.
“I was very disappointed to learn of the decision to base the new service in Inverness, which seems like a real kick in the teeth to smaller airports that have been working hard to train, support and develop the expertise in their ATC staff.”
Trudy Morris, chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, was also unhappy with the decision.
She said: “We were extremely disappointed by the Hial board’s decision to select Inverness in principle as the location for a planned centralised air traffic management facility. Wick John O’Groats Airport would have made an excellent base for this facility, and would have offered an opportunity for Hial to reverse the trend of centralisation of public services in Inverness.
“It is our understanding that Inverness offered significant benefits to Hial with regard to retention of existing and recruitment of new staff, and we can appreciate why this proved to be a significant factor in the decision-making process. Unfortunately the end result will be a loss of skilled jobs from the rural communities which most need them.”
Ms Morris added: “At a time when the future for the north Highlands is looking bright, with significant investments in oil and gas, renewables, tourism and indeed the airport itself, we feel this is a missed opportunity to maximise these. We will be working closely with Hial, public agencies and local businesses over the coming years to understand and address the impact that this decision will have on the north Highlands.”
Inverness was picked as the preferred location for a new state-of-the art air traffic control centre following a study by consultants.