HIAL publishes Air Traffic Management Strategy Impact Assessment

Sumburgh Airport, Sumburgh, Shetland

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.

Published: 5th March 2021