Modernisation programme is necessary to future-proof air connectivity in Highlands and Islands, say airport bosses
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Bosses of airports in the Highlands and Islands say they cannot guarantee air connectivity unless they move forward with their modernisation programme.
They made the comment in response to calls by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) for a rethink on plans to centralise air traffic control services in the region.
The federation has condemned plans by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) – which operates 11 airports – to reduce the current level of the air traffic control services at six airports and centralise them remotely in Inverness.
It has written to Scotland's Minister for Transport Graeme Dey, maintaining such a decision would strongly disrupt the local rural communities, not just through the loss of highly skilled jobs but also by potentially losing essential services, such as medical flights, due to the vulnerability of remote tower technology.
In response, Hial said the organisation provides lifeline and essential air services and contributes to the social and economic prosperity of local and island communities.
A spokesman said: "As a result, we need to ensure our airports and aviation services are maintained and future-proofed for the medium to long-term.
"To date, there are no alternative proposals for air traffic services that provide the all-encompassing solution of Hial’s current Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS).
"Unless we move forward with our modernisation programme we cannot guarantee air connectivity for the Highlands and Islands into the future.
"ATMS will modernise the way airspace is managed and, importantly, deliver more resilient and safer air navigation for decades to come."
The spokesman said that as a public body, Hial was subject to the Scottish Government’s no compulsory redundancy policy and there would be no reduction in the number of jobs in the new air traffic management structure.
He continued: "Our air traffic colleagues are highly valued members of our team, and our priority is to retain them within Hial.
"We have worked with Prospect over several months to agree a number of policies to support our colleagues’ transition to our Air Traffic Management programme.
"We remain in dialogue with the trade union on the principles of a commuting policy that will allow our colleagues to remain at their home location and work in Inverness.
"The introduction of an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) at both Benbecula and Wick airports will ensure these airfields have a viable and sustainable future, based on a proportionate level of service aligned to the volume and complexity of air traffic using these airports.
"AFIS - which already operates at four other Hial airports - will provide the continuation of an air traffic service that is safe, efficient and regulatory compliant."