Ministers warned of safety concerns over air traffic control cuts in Scotland


UNIONS have called on Transport Minister Graeme Dey to intervene amid fears that plans to close air traffic towers in Scotland pose a threat to health and safety.

Europe’s largest transport union has warned that plans to centralize air traffic control for seven airports “would represent a considerable risk to communities”.

It comes as Mr Dey has been criticized for “failing” to engage in dialogue with air traffic control staff over concerns about the plans.

Transport Scotland said the minister had met with the Western Isles Council where “modernization” of air traffic control services was on the agenda.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETWF), which represents 5 million transport workers in 41 countries, said it was particularly concerned about the functioning of emergency services such as medical flights.

And he said that with the downgrading of services, especially at Benbecula and Wick, comes safety concerns, as air traffic control services will be downgraded to an aerodrome flight information service that “just removes “the possibility of giving instructions to planes on arrival and departure.

Mr Dey had been approached by air traffic control staff to discuss the issues – but Prospect said they were told he was not available.

Scottish government owned Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is moving forward with plans to move air traffic works to a “remote site” in Inverness.

It will involve the withdrawal of seven existing towers in Inverness, Dundee, Shetland, Orkney, Wick, Benbecula and Stornoway.

He rejected what he called the “alarmist” security claims.

Prospect, who represents air traffic controllers who have recently been on strike over a proposal to move jobs from the islands to Inverness, said the lack of a meeting was a “missed opportunity” and called on Mr Dey to tackle the issue. urgency to the question.

Potential negotiator David Avery said: “It is disappointing that the Minister did not take this opportunity to speak to air traffic personnel about the impact of HIAL’s remote tower plan on individuals and on the aircraft. economy of the islands.

“Ultimately, the Scottish Government has the power to step in and force a recast of these plans, and it is incumbent upon them to listen to the serious concerns that have been raised.

“This missed opportunity makes it even more vital that the Minister seize the next available opportunity to meet with Prospect and local politicians to discuss our concerns.”

The plans also involve further degradation of ground air traffic services at Benbecula and Wick. It is understood that this involves becoming a flight information service agent (FISO) service – which the unions say does not offer any “deconfliction” service to keep aircraft out of the path of others.

In a letter to the Scottish government, the ETWF drew the attention of ministers to what they call “the enormous security risks associated with the implementation of such a decision”, reminding authorities of the imperative need to maintain their current level of specialized air traffic services.

They say this is crucial due to the nature of the airports and the traffic they currently serve, such as scheduled air services, ferry flights and offshore helicopter operations, and the “very specific weather conditions in this area. part of Europe “.

Analysis by Prospect, who represents air traffic control staff at HIAL airports, suggests that moving air traffic control to Inverness will cut up to 60 skilled jobs and around £ 1.5million in jobs direct in rural and island economies and would ‘run counter’ to the recently released The Islands Plan produced by the Scottish Government, which owns HIAL.

The ETWF Acting Secretary General wrote to Mr Dey to say: ‘It is essential that the Scottish Government intervenes and understands the consequences of this decision for its citizens, its workers and society in general in the Highlands and the islands.

“While these decisions may seem like a cost exercise on paper, such decisions have a direct impact on the livelihoods of individuals and the communities in which they live.

“In our opinion, the safety and development of these communities should take priority over all other concerns, including profitability and profit. ”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “The decision to modernize air traffic control will ensure the continuity of air services in the future.

“The option chosen by HIAL in 2018 will improve the resilience, security and reliability of services. The fact remains that no alternative has been proposed to solve the problems that the program aims to solve.

“HIAL continues to engage with its staff, unions, airline customers and other interested parties as the program is implemented. ”

A spokesperson for HIAL said: “We are dismayed and disappointed that alarmist and misleading allegations are again being made regarding ATMs. To be clear, HIAL would never introduce a dangerous system and our regulators would not allow us to do so. HIAL maintains a regular dialogue with the Civil Aviation Authority, which is satisfied with the progress of the project.

“The introduction of an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) at Benbecula and Wick Airports will ensure these aerodromes have a viable and sustainable future, based on a commensurate level of service aligned with volume and complexity of air traffic using these airports. AFIS – which already operates at four other HIAL airports – will ensure the continuity of a safe, efficient and regulatory compliant air traffic service.

“The Scottish Government has been fully assessed at every step of the ATMS process, as has Prospect. We continue to engage with our colleagues and stakeholders as we move forward on this difficult and necessary change management agenda that will ensure the future of sustainable aviation services for the communities we serve. ”

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