MSP Gail Ross seeking more information about airport plans
NORTH MSP Gail Ross is seeking more information about the plans by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) to downgrade air services at Wick John O'Groats Airport.
Mrs Ross noted that MSPs are to be given a briefing in parliament on Tuesday but in the meantime she has contacted Hial requesting answers on what the announcement will mean for Wick.
The SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross also voiced concern about the timetable for the closure of air traffic control at five airports – Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway – as part of the Remote Towers project.
"The centralisation of the air traffic control towers to Inverness was disappointing enough but we now need to know what the implications of being an ‘information only’ service will be," she said.
"It almost certainly looks like it will involve redundancies and this is simply not acceptable. I have also written to the cabinet secretary for transport to bring this to his attention.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant condemned the announcement that the plans to centralise air traffic control in the Highlands and Islands will go ahead, despite opposition from communities, the Prospect union and a cross-section of MSPs.
Mrs Grant said: “From the day these proposals were first aired I have received representation from local communities who are desperate to maintain the current system for safety reasons and to protect island jobs.
“I have been told that this project relies on super-high bandwidth to succeed. We all know that many of our remote and rural areas do not have this so how can Hial press on regardless?
“The proposals to downgrade services at Wick and Benbecula are astounding given the localities have been earmarked as spaceports. These decisions also fly in the face of the Scottish Government’s own recently published Islands Plan which seeks to protect and improve services and employment in island communities."
She added: “Hial appears to be intent on pushing this through despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option.
“While this fits with the Scottish Government’s determination to centralise services out of local areas, it is an appalling decision and Hial and the Scottish Government must stop these plans right now before remote air services are jeopardised and more local jobs are taken out of rural communities.”
The proposals have met with strong criticism from the Prospect union.
“The proposals to downgrade services at Wick and Benbecula are staggering," Prospect negotiator David Avery said. "They fly against the Scottish Government’s own recently published Islands Plan which seeks to protect and improve services and employment in island communities.
"Within these small communities the loss of even a few jobs like this is the equivalent of losing several hundred jobs in Glasgow and Edinburgh."
The union also spoke out against Hial's proposals to shut air traffic towers in the Highlands and Islands and relocate them to a new centre in Inverness, up to 300 miles away.
Prospect, which represents air traffic control staff at Hial airports, says the proposals are poorly thought through, have not been consulted on and will put the long-term future of vital services at risk.
Mr Avery said: "It is inconceivable that such far-reaching changes can be brought in with the paltry level of consultation and transparency we have seen. For a government-owned company to treat its workers, customers and local communities in this way is absolutely staggering.
"Prospect will not stand by and allow Hial to downgrade Scotland’s islands with this threat to their air services and their economy.
“At the same time as Prospect members were voting to accept a pay deal which included a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, the Hial board has decided to implement these changes which will inevitably lead to redundancies. Members will see this as a betrayal by the board."
The union feels that the possibility of downgrading Wick and Benbecula to a flight information service officer (FISO) service would likely result in up to 10 redundancies across the two airfields.
Analysis from Prospect suggests that moving air traffic control to Inverness will remove up to 60 skilled jobs and around £1.5m of direct employment from rural and island economies.
The union also fears that going down this route will reduce the safety and resilience of air traffic control across the Highlands by relying on a single centre and a single point of failure.