Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) is seeking to introduce a simulator to assist in the training of air traffic controllers ahead of plans to centralise their work.
The airport operator is seeking to purchase the fully configurable simulator in order to train members of staff, alongside aiding research and development of infrastructure.
The move comes as plans to centralise air traffic control operations from five Hial operated airports at a dedicated “combined surveillance centre” at New Century House in Inverness take shape.
Centralisation plans are part of a wider £28million plan to deliver a remote aircraft monitoring system.
Digital tower technology will instead be introduced at Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Sumburgh and Stornoway airports which would leave airports unmanned and instead operated by controllers based in the Highland capital.
Hial, who operate 11 airports across the Highlands, Northern Isles, Western Isles and Dundee, have said the simulator will also allow for research to be carried out which will “enable new procedures to be worked up and tested” including camera locations, multi runway operations and testing of radar.
Before a contract is put to tender, the airport operator has said it intends to carry out a short market engagement exercise to inform the tender process.
A Hial spokesman said: “The air traffic simulator will help develop radar approach procedures and the delivery of training as we move towards the implementation of approach radar services at Sumburgh airport in Shetland.
“Additionally, it will allow us to deliver surveillance-based training and airspace modelling at other Hial airports.
“Prior to putting the contract to tender we worked with Hial colleagues to identify the requirements needed to develop a full training programme for air traffic control staff.
“The simulator’s role in remote tower delivery will be determined as the project progresses.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has said while she would normally “welcome investment into staff training and opportunities”, she feels the introduction of a simulator is part of the “damaging centralisation plan which Hial is stubbornly pushing ahead with”.
She added: “It is disappointing that Hial refuses to listen to other options and indeed listen to the needs of the communities it should be serving.
“They continue to squander public money on an untested system that will ultimately damage the economy of the islands.
“The contract to purchase a simulator, and the small fortune that has been spent on this plan to date, are evidence that Hial is determined to push the Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) plan through, no matter what objections are made, what consultations are still outstanding and despite the ongoing lack of an islands impact assessment.”