Air Traffic Management Strategy

ATMS Business Case - 2019

Options and Recommendations

Consultancy firm Helios undertook a scoping study in 2017, which explored operational resilience and flexibility; recruitment and retention of staff; safety; controlled airspace, likely legislative changes and surveillance and remote tower technology.

The Scoping Study Report detailed the breakdown of the options and the reasoning for the recommendation to proceed with the implementation of Controlled Airspace, Centralised Surveillance and Remote Tower delivery.

The HIAL Board agreed with this recommendation in December 2017 and the Transport Minister agreed the ATMS programme should proceed in January 2018.

This set the strategic direction for the ATMS programme and a dedicated ATMS programme team was established to refine the concepts into a series of manageable activities to deliver that strategy.

A year of feasibility and options works was undertaken during 2019, which included a series of detailed technical workshops, generated refinements to the recommended high-level option concept recommended by the Helios study.   Those consulted included HIAL’s air traffic staff, trade unions, the Civil Aviation Authority, NATS, airlines, aircraft operators, and the military, and academic organisations.

During 2019, in addition to the Helios study, feasibility and options phases were undertaken by the ATMS team and included full consideration of options for:

Sumburgh radar approach

Sumburgh radar approach is currently provided by NATS from Aberdeen.The intention is to bring this activity in-house, to sit alongside the other Radar operations that will run in the Combined Surveillance Centre (CSC).

The business case recommended transition of radar approach for Sumburgh into the CSC as soon as possible.This will provide additional benefits to allow proof of concept, early trialling of transition methods for the programme in a lower risk environment.It would also have minimum impact to current operations.

Airspace and surveillance

Feasibility and options explored types of controlled airspace and surveillance that could realistically be delivered for each of the ATC units that will transfer to the CSC.

A key element of HIAL’s modernisation will be the introduction of surveillance into its ATC airports. This will require the airspace around the airports to be controlled. There were a number of options considered.The recommended option was a Transponder and Radio Transponder Zone (TMZ and RMZ) as this provides a safe area whilst also allowing flexibility for other non-airport airspace users in the vicinity of our aerodromes.

ATC training

A significant volume of ATC training will be required to deliver the ATMS Programme.This includes APS courses for existing staff and Basic/Aerodrome Licence (ADI)/Radar Licence (APS) courses for ab-initios (new starts for ATCO qualification), as well as a number of unit validations.The detailed workshops explored how the required training should be provided.

Air traffic provision at Benbecula and Wick John O'Groats

Both Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports were included in the scope of the Helios study in 2017 and were within the scope of the ATMS programme for centralised surveillance and remote tower delivery.

A key element of the ATMS programme is to ensure that HIAL provides an appropriate and proportionate level of Air Traffic Service (ATS) at all of its airports based on the density of traffic movements, complexity of the airspace and nature of operation at each airport.

The ATMS feasibility and design stage included a comprehensive review and evaluation of the level of ATS provision at both Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats Airports.

A high level workshop, which included an optioneering exercise, was conducted by the ATMS team to ascertain the optimum level of ATS provision required at both airports to ensure the continued provision of a safe, efficient and regulatory compliant ATS going forward.The workshop was attended by subject matter experts from across relevant departments who had access to historical, current and projected data along with regulatory requirements and operational procedures for the airports.The workshop concluded that the most appropriate level of ATS for both airports was an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS).

The HIAL Board approved the recommendation to pursue a change in the level of ATS from an Air Traffic Control (ATC) service to an AFIS - a similar level of ATS to that currently provided at HIAL’s Barra, Campbeltown, Islay and Tiree airports.

However, due to a somewhat more complex air environment in the vicinity of Wick John O’Groats Airport, including helicopter transit routes and overflights, the Board agreed with the recommendation to establish a new combined Radar Sector.This will provide approach radar services to Kirkwall and Wick airports from the new Combined Surveillance Centre located at Inverness.

HIAL Board’s approval of these recommendations allowed for the engagement and notification stages for staff and stakeholders to commence in January 2020 ahead of initiating the formal regulatory process for a change in the level of ATS from ATC to AFIS.This started in August 2020 for Benbecula, with a view to the operational transition to AFIS taking place in April 2022.The regulator change process for Wick John O’Groats airport will commence in the first quarter of 2022 for a planned transition to AFIS in December 2023.

Transition order in ATMS programme

The business case presented information on the transition order of those airports included in the ATMS programme.


Approval of ATMS Business Case - 2019

The ATMS Business Case consolidated the findings of the feasibility and options work and the recommendations following the series of detailed workshops. This presented the HIAL Board with refinements to the high-level scoping study undertaken by Helios in 2017. 

The Board was presented with four options, with Option 4 recommended:

  1. To do nothing – a non-viable option
  2. Provision of Controlled Airspace and Surveillance at each site
  3. Controlled Airspace, Centralised Surveillance and Remote Tower delivery (ATMS Baseline)
  4. Controlled Airspace, Centralised Surveillance and Remote Tower delivery (Increased Efficiency)

Option 4 was approved as it provides increased efficiency on the ATMS Baseline (Option 3) with a reduced capital and revenue spend over the lifetime of the programme. It also reduces delivery timescales with the earlier delivery of a resilient and sustainable operation. This will enable ATC resilience risks, including an ageing infrastructure, outmoded operational practices, staff resilience and training, to be mitigated more swiftly.

The Business Case, which included the financial case, was approved by the HIAL Board in October 2019 before being presented to Transport Scotland’s Investment and Decision-Making Board (IDMB) for approval.

The IDMB identified the need for further capital and contingency coverage and recommended this be increased before approving the Business Case in December 2019.  Contingency funding was increased, and the overall budget for the ATMS programme agreed with the IDMB was £48.4 million – Capital at £34.7m and Revenue at £13.7m.

Thereafter, the HIAL Board gave approval in December 2019 to proceed with ATMS Programme Delivery.


Alternative to ATMS Delivery

The alternative to ATMS would have been a ‘local surveillance alternative’ detailed as Option 2 in the ATMS Business Case 2019.

This option was discounted as it would require a significant increase in the number of dedicated staff to provide both an aerodrome and approach radar service at each airport. The increased requirement for air traffic controllers would intensify recruitment and retention challenges.   

While there would be increased staff at each airport, this would not offer any additional flexibility or resolve resilience issues when compared to the centralised approach which could staff managing more than one unit when required.

This option would also require a significant investment in new infrastructure and radar systems at most of the airports within scope.

Despite a significant investment in infrastructure and an increase in resource, this option would still fail to deliver some key deliverables, including improvements in resilience, flexibility and sustainability, particularly at our island airports.

As this option did not meet HIAL’s objectives, further detailed costings were not undertaken or considered in detail.