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Air traffic services at Wick set to be downgraded as part of Hial changes


By Jean Gunn


Inglis Lyon, managing director of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, says the focus is on providing a safe, modern and efficient means of handling aircraft for the regions and the islands. Picture: Callum Mackay
Inglis Lyon, managing director of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, says the focus is on providing a safe, modern and efficient means of handling aircraft for the regions and the islands. Picture: Callum Mackay

AIR traffic services at Wick John O'Groats Airport look set to be downgraded in the latest phase of the Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) management programme.

Hial insists that the decision is based primarily on the local volume of air traffic and reflects industry norms for this type of airport.

It says the revisions for Wick John O'Groats will not be implemented before December 2023.

Benbecula has also been earmarked for downgrading, with the changes there not due to take place before December 2021.

Announcing the plans on Friday, Hial said the latest phase of its air traffic management programme was aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of its operations in Scotland.

The airport operator's board agreed the recommendation to revise the level of air traffic service at both Wick and Benbecula from an air traffic control (ATC) service to an aerodrome flight information service (AFIS), similar to that currently used at Hial's airports at Campbeltown, Islay, Tiree and Barra.

Hial is also moving ahead with its plans to close several remote aircraft control towers and relocate them to a new combined surveillance centre which will be the central hub at the heart of the ATM (Air Traffic Management) project.

New Century House in Inverness has been identified as the location for the centre and it is expected that the purchase of the building – which will require a refit – will be concluded shortly.

Hial managing director Inglis Lyon said: “The strategic programme decisions made by the board will move us into the implementation phase of the project and allow detailed operational decisions to be made.

“The acquisition of a base for the new combined surveillance centre marks a significant next step in the project.

“It will allow us to move forward with planning and procurement of the relevant systems to safely deliver a state-of-the-art air traffic control management system and give additional clarity to colleagues and stakeholders as we deliver this complex and challenging programme.

“Our focus continues to be on aviation service delivery and providing a safe, modern and efficient means of handling aircraft for the regions and the islands in the future.”

The ATMS project, announced in January 2018, will change the way air traffic services are provided at seven Hial airports by running activities in a centralised tower and surveillance centre and modernising the way airspace is managed.

The project is the largest of its kind within UK air traffic control. It will bring together air traffic management at five airports into a single location including Hial airports at Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

There are no planned reductions in staff numbers as a result of the project.

Hial says digital tower technology is proven and is operating in many parts of the world, including Sweden and Norway as well as London City Airport.

Cameras offer air traffic controllers panoramic views of the airfield showing more detail than is possible with the human eye.

The implementation and delivery of the remote tower and surveillance centre is the largest and most complex project Hial has ever undertaken. Staff and unions, airport managers and senior Hial personnel have been involved throughout the process.

The Scottish Government and local politicians have also been kept informed.

Related article: MSP Gail Ross sets out concerns over future of Wick airport



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