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Air traffic centralisation plan 'a shambles of monumental proportions,' says Rhoda Grant

By Gordon Calder

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A PLAN to centralise Highlands and Islands air traffic control services in Inverness is "a shambles of monumental proportions" and will have an adverse impact on Wick airport.

That is the damning verdict of north MSP, Rhoda Grant, when she spoke out against the centralisation plan at the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee this week.

The airport would be downgraded under the Hial plan, says Rhoda Grant.
The airport would be downgraded under the Hial plan, says Rhoda Grant.

The Labour MSP is backing a cross-community petition which is asking the Scottish Government to halt the controversial plans which would result in airports at Wick and Benbecula being downgraded and others operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) being monitored remotely.

Although Hial has announced it is reviewing its plans, Mrs Grant says there are still "grave concerns" as the company has bought building assets in Inverness which are intended for the delivery of the project.

The MSP 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 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 (Public Service Obligation) – a form of subsidy – routes."

Mrs Grant urged the committee to contact Hial to get a clearer picture of its plans and to continue to keep the petition open due to the concerns raised.

That was agreed while members also decided to ask the company about alternative proposals and to get the views of airport operators, including flight clubs.

Afterwards, 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 opposition's 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 (Civil Aviation Authority), 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."

The petition has been considered six times since it was first lodged in March 2020.

No one from Hial was available for comment when we went to press.

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