Remote airport control towers plan ‘unsafe’

Plans for remote control towers to be used at airports serving island communities are “unsafe and untested”, MSPs have been told.

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 7:09 am
Kirkwall airport.
Kirkwall airport.

The Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee heard from campaigners urging Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to halt its plans to centralise air traffic control.

The company, which is wholly owned by the Scottish Government and runs 11 airports, says the plan will solve recruitment issues and make it sustainable in the long-term.

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But opponents, including community councils based near some of the airports, say it could cause delays to “lifeline” flights.

The committee yesterday heard from two witnesses supporting a petition against the plans, and they said there should be a greater focus on recruiting local people. Peter Henderson, who worked at Kirkwall Airport in Orkney for 18 years as an air traffic assistant, said there is a risk emergency “blue light” medical flights could be disrupted.

He said: “I cannot with a clear conscience accept that this is safe and I don’t want people in my community made more ill or dying because of remote links which are highly unstable.”

He said airport control towers have visibility of about 15 miles on an average day, whereas the remotely monitored cameras would have a narrower view of only three miles.

Mr Henderson said: “We’re reliant on being able to see things.

“Why send all of that 100 miles through cables all through the Highlands for a compressed view? It’s just wrong. And it’s unsafe and it’s untested and we’re being experimented on.”

He said he had left HIAL because he “could not cope” with the way it was being run, and he claimed current employees have been prevented from speaking out.

The technology for remote control towers is still “in its infancy”, he said.

John Doig, who presented the petition on behalf of 
Benbecula Community 
Council, said there had been a lack of consultation with communities the move would effect.

He said the proposed changes would mean bad weather could cause “significant delays to scheduled or mail flights 
to stop them from arriving 
and departing at the same time”.

Committee convener Johann Lamont said the witnesses’ evidence had been “extremely useful” and further views will be sought from the Scottish Government.

She said: “I don’t think centralisation anywhere is a terribly positive thing.”


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