Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, has written to Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and the Auditor General for Scotland, Mr Stephen Boyle, to look into the proposals from HIAL for remote air traffic control, centralising in Inverness, which will be extremely damaging for a number of quality island jobs and far more costly for the public purse.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“I am very concerned about the process which HIAL are undertaking, as are a number of others in the Highlands and Islands. Essentially their proposals will cost far more for the public purse and importantly remove quality jobs in our island communities, namely Benbecula and Lewis. 

“At the moment HIAL are presenting three sets of figures, showing their current operations at Benbecula & Stornoway, as well as Dundee, Kirkwall, Wick and Sumburgh. The first sets of figures show that they currently spend £3.89 million running these airports with 65 employees in total. Instead they have a pet project of centralising in Inverness which would cost £6.18 million and require 96 employees. To make this extravagance look palatable, HIAL present another set of figures, talking of an upgrade to each of the individual airports which would require 135 employees and cost £8.5 million across the network.

“However, what they are not including in their figures would be the costs of a local surveillance alternative, using the same technology as they will have to install for their remote towers operation, which air traffic controllers say could be done with the same 65 employees and comparatively minimal extra revenue costs of £600,000 more annually, spread across all the airports. Even when the trade union Prospect has inflated the amount of jobs required in the islands with 91 being employed, the cost would still be less than the remote towers operation while still keeping island jobs.

“Obviously if you only selectively compare you will find yourself quite easily able to reach conclusions that you wanted to reach in the first place, even if it means costing the Scottish Government £2.3 million extra for each and every year going forward. 

“HIAL seem to have a bee in their bonnet about removing jobs from the islands and as a result I have contacted both Audit Scotland and the Finance Secretary to urgently oversee just what is going on here. Certainly consideration of the damage for island communities has not been a factor, the overriding point is that the public purse loses out.

“Only this week I received a response from the UK Government stating that they had no plans to legislate for controlled airspace, which torpedoes a lot of HIAL’s arguments for spending the millions extra. 

“Finally, from a Freedom of Information request earlier this month it seems HIAL have already spent £6.5 million on this project and it seems to be the all too common urge to throw good money after bad. It is time to stop and remove the cloud and job insecurity hanging over too many people in our communities.”