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MSP Rhoda Grant backs petition to halt air traffic changes

By Alan Hendry

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Under the Hial plans, Wick John O'Groats Airport will see a downgrading of its air traffic service.
Under the Hial plans, Wick John O'Groats Airport will see a downgrading of its air traffic service.

North MSP Rhoda Grant has given her support to a petition opposing the air traffic control centralisation plans drawn up by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial).

She accuses the operator of showing "blatant contempt" for outlying communities.

The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to halt the Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) and order an independent assessment of the decision-making process.

It has been submitted on behalf of Benbecula Community Council in the Outer Hebrides.

Under the Hial project, Benbecula and Wick John O'Groats airports will see their level of air traffic service downgraded from Air Traffic Control (ATC) to an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS), similar to that already used at Campeltown, 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 a central hub. New Century House in Inverness has been identified as the location for the centre.

Mrs Grant, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “Hial’s proposals are not only heavily reliant on robust and reliable infrastructure which is not currently in place, but they rely on a system which is untested to the level of traffic and the geographical area that Hial wants to implement it across.

“Of even greater concern is the blasé way in which Hial is happy to strip high-quality jobs from some of our most fragile areas. These losses will result in whole families leaving areas already rife with depopulation and have a decimating impact.”

Mrs Grant dismissed the idea that air traffic controllers would be able to "commute" from areas such as Benbecula to Inverness. "This is clearly not a sustainable solution for air traffic controllers who want to live and work at home," she said.

She accused Hial of showing "blatant contempt for the islands and rural Highlands", adding: "That is why I am supporting this petition, and I would urge everyone to sign it.”

She added: “The SNP has developed a nasty habit of centralising services into urban ‘hubs’ and stripping all local knowledge from services.”

The petition can be found at http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/airservices and is open until May 6.

A spokesperson for Hial said: “From the outset Hial has kept staff and stakeholders involved and informed with regard to the ATMS process. Our decision to proceed with the project was based on a report by industry professionals and involved input from air traffic control colleagues, who indicated their preference to locate the combined control centre in Inverness.”

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