Digital Assurance Office Report - 26 May 2021

Air Traffic Management Strategy – Technology Assurance Review: Health Check

As we move forward with ATMS, adopting best practice and monitoring project progress within our internal governance framework is crucial. 

We welcome the vital role of independent governance in providing appropriate challenge and support for key decision and progress points across the project life, as well as providing assurance on the delivery of the programme.

We identified areas where independent oversight could assist the ATMS project team with programme delivery and specific technical aspects within the programme.

The ATMS programme is required to observe the Technology Assurance Framework, administered by the Scottish Government’s Digital Assurance Office (DAO), which includes assurance of major projects during their lifetime. Therefore, an independent review team undertook a Health Check Review on the ATMS Programme on behalf of the DAO. 

The review team, which is independent of the ATMS programme and accredited by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, made recommendations relating to programme management, governance, resourcing, procurement and strategic oversight and assurance.  HIAL welcomed and agreed with the recommendations and immediately actioned them.

Ten of the 12 recommendations identified in the Technology Assurance Review have been actioned with good progress on the outstanding recommendations.  The DAO has discussed the action plan and supporting evidence and the effectiveness of the actions will be considered by the independent review team at the next Health Check.

Full details of the recommendations and the actions taken are included in ATMS Technology Assurance Review: Health Check Action plan.

The DAO owns the report.  However, following a request from the Scottish Parliamentary Petitions Committee, HIAL asked that the DAO share the report with the Committee and also sought permission to share the report internally with its colleagues and to publish it on the HIAL website.

HIAL will continue to work with the DAO for the duration of the ATMS project, and the date for the next Technology Assurance Review is currently being scheduled.  

HIAL is focused on applying learning and embracing best practice and external governance and oversight will be a feature of the ATMS programme as it progresses.


Benbecula Airport - Change of Category of Air Traffic Service - 21 May 2021

In December 2019, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) Board approved a recommendation to pursue a change in the level of Air Traffic Service (ATS) provision at Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports from an Air Traffic Control (ATC) service to an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) as part of its wider air traffic management modernisation programme.  The project to deliver this service level change will involve two phases - phase one is the Benbecula Airport Transition Project which is underway and runs from August 2020 to April 2022.  Phase two is the Wick John O’Groats Airport Transition Project which will run from January 2022 to December 2023. 

Benbecula Airport is one of HIAL’s 11 airports located in the Outer Hebrides off the West Coast of Scotland.  The airport currently provides an Air Traffic Control (ATC) Service for circa 4,000 aircraft movements per annum and traffic levels are not expected to significantly increase in the future. The airport serves scheduled flights to and from Stornoway, Inverness (via Stornoway) and Glasgow Airports and is also used by charters, general aviation, air ambulance and search and rescue (SAR) flights outside published operating hours.

Due to the low number of aircraft movements, low complexity of the airspace environment and the nature of the operation at Benbecula airport, HIAL proposes to change the level of Air Traffic Service (ATS) provision from an Air Traffic Control (ATC) service to an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS). This will provide an ATS service level that is proportionate and more appropriate for the level of traffic served whilst ensuring the continued provision of a safe, efficient, and regulatory compliant ATS to the airport and its airspace users. This change in ATS is expected to have minimal impact on flights operating to and from Benbecula and no changes to aerodrome facilities or operational hours.

This change will follow the airspace change proposal processes prescribed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 1616 and the safety assurance processes prescribed in CAP 760.  The information document below offers a concise background, context, rationale and description of the change and focuses on the Benbecula transition phase of the project.

Benbecula Airport - Change of Category of Air Traffic Service – Information Update  21 April 2021


HIAL publishes Air Traffic Management Strategy Impact Assessment - 05 March 2021

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) has today published a report following an independent Impact Assessment of its Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS).

The overall objective of the process has been to assess the economic and community impact of ATMS and, where relevant, undertake Island Community Impact Assessments (ICIAs).

The report explores the potential impacts on local communities, both positive and negative, resulting from ATMS.

The strategy will introduce remote integrated air traffic control services for the five airports – Inverness, Dundee, Stornoway, Kirkwall and Sumburgh. This will be delivered via a Combined Surveillance Centre (CSC) located in Inverness.

Additionally, Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports will change the way air traffic management is delivered by extending their current AFIS (Aerodrome Flight Information Service) operations.

The report, by Reference Economic Consultants, makes clear that the status quo is not sustainable. Therefore, it compares the impact of the ATMS programme with what HIAL had considered as an alternative option – a local surveillance solution based at existing airports. The report clearly notes why local surveillance was not viable and was discounted.

The local surveillance option was explored but was discounted – not just because it was the most costly option identified in the Helios consultancy report of 2017 – but because it did not offer the same level of staff resilience, operational flexibility or recruitment and retention benefits that the ATMS option offers.

An online survey of HIAL’s air traffic staff was undertaken as well as a full consultation programme with relevant communities, local authorities, community councils and national politicians. The trade union Prospect was consulted as well as air operators.

HIAL chair Lorna Jack said: “We welcome the report and commend the author on a thorough and challenging examination of the issues.

“The commissioning of the report demonstrates our commitment to listen and do everything we possibly can to mitigate any impacts. We want to work with colleagues and communities to find practical solutions.

“We appreciate that a programme of this magnitude and complexity will bring significant change for people in our communities, including our highly-valued air traffic control colleagues.

“However, standing still is not an option – we must modernise. ATMS is the only option that provides the necessary levels of resilience required to ensure long-term sustainable air traffic service provision for the communities we serve.”

HIAL has identified and put forward numerous initiatives aimed at making the transition as manageable as possible.

The Board has accepted the potential impacts on local employment and economies and agreed with the further recommendations to explore where HIAL’s operations can create more economic activity for island communities. HIAL intends to commission an independent study to identify where that can be done, specifically for Lewis, Orkney, Shetland and Uist.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon, said: “We have always known there would be impacts by undertaking such a significant and complex change management programme.

“To date, there have been no alternative proposals that provide a solution that fully addresses all of the challenges HIAL currently faces.”

HIAL has written to all relevant local authorities to request meetings and has offered to work together with stakeholders to identify where it can contribute further to local economies.

Mr Lyon said: “We hope that everyone with a vested interest in the long-term future of air traffic services in the Highlands and Islands will work us to deliver viable solutions that will maintain lifeline services and essential connectivity for generations to come.”

For more information and to view the report, please see our Impact Assessment page.


Tender for remote tower solution - 04 May 2020

Highlands and Island Airports Limited has invited tenders from world-class providers to deliver remote tower technology as part of the next phase of its Air Traffic Management Strategy Programme. This technology will help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and deliver a flexible, resilient air traffic service that will be highly adaptable as we ensure our airports are fit for the future.

The successful bidder will be expected to be involved in the design, supply, delivery and installation, as well as commissioning and testing of equipment at Inverness, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Dundee and Stornoway airports.

You can view the tender documents online at Public Procurement Scotland website

To support the implementation and the delivery of the remote air traffic tower solution there will be additional future procurement processes, including the refurbishment of the new Combined Surveillance Centre at New Century House, in Inverness and the provision of a surveillance solution.