Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has welcomed the agreement reached between HIAL and Prospect on an "alternative delivery" of the ATMS programme which will retain air traffic controllers in the isles but repeated concerns about the process leading up to this point.
The agreement follows confirmation earlier this month in a parliamentary answer to Mr McArthur from the Transport Minister that procurement of the remote tower project had been cancelled. Launched in 2018, HIAL's Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) included plans which would have seen air traffic controllers removed from airports across the region and replaced with a single, ‘remote’ tower based in Inverness.
Mr McArthur has led opposition to the centralisation plans which have faced mounting questions over costs, deliverability and impact on the islands. During that time, staff and local communities have faced uncertainty about what the future holds. Earlier this week a breakdown was published of the £9 million spent on ATMS to date, revealing over £220,000 has been spent on the remote towers project with more than £530,000 spent on professional/consultancy fees.
The proposed centralisation plans also faced increasing cross-party opposition following HIAL’s own impact assessment which identified a series of "negative" and "significantly negative" impacts on island communities to the plans, notably the loss of "high quality employment" and salaries from the local economy.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
"While news that these vital jobs will be retained in Orkney is welcome, HIAL must now remove any possibility that these ill-conceived plans might make a reappearance somewhere down the line. Staff and communities have faced years of uncertainty and they deserve nothing less. This agreement must spell the end of attempts to centralise air traffic services in the Highlands & Islands.
"Meantime, though, serious questions remain about why it took so long to get to this stage. On cost, deliverability and island impact, these plans made no sense. While modernisation of air traffic services is undoubtedly essential, claims by HIAL and SNP Ministers that centralisation was the only viable option was never true.
"Over recent days, the First Minister has been rightly critical of the Prime Minister for ‘blowing’ £900,000 on a study that proved a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland wouldn’t work. Yet she seems happy for her government to help blow over half a million pounds on consultancy fees to establish that centralising our air traffic services similarly wouldn’t work. In light of that, staff and island communities are due at least an apology."