North MSP Rhoda Grant has blasted transport secretary Michael Matheson for his ’embarrassing, defensive and ignorant’ performance air traffic control (ATC) centralisation plans for the north.
The move to use remote ATC from Inverness for smaller airports, proposed by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial), was discussed at the latest Scottish Parliament petitions committee.
Mr Matheson appeared before the committee to answer questions and provide evidence for the fourth appearance of a petition submitted by Benbecula community council asking for centralisation plans to be halted until an independent investigation can be undertaken.
Hial has proposed controlling air traffic at six regional airports from Inverness by 2023.
The agency has purchased a site in the city for a remote tower that would house a combined surveillance centre.
The move would leave towers unmanned at island airports including Sumburgh in Shetland, Kirkwall in Orkney, and at Stornoway and Benbecula in the Western Isles.
Mrs Grant attended the committee and questioned the minister on points of resilience, costs and staffing.
She described Mr Matheson as being ‘uninterested in the detail, technicalities and impacts on communities as a result of the project’.
She told him: “ You’ve already presided over the ferry fiasco, this is going to be another fiasco.”
Mrs Grant said afterwards that in her view Mr Matheson was like ‘a stuck record’.
“No question, no argument, no logic could sway him from the root line he has been fed by Hial, that no other option tackles all the fundamental issues that need to be addressed.”
She accused him of acting as Hial’s ‘puppet’.
“Staff do not want this and communities don’t want this.
“Both have offered to work with Hial and Michael Matheson to find better solutions to the problems being faced.”
Calls have been made for a government review of controversial centralisation plans after it emerged that £6 million had been spent on the scheme.
A spokesman from Transport Scotland said: “We recognise the need to modernise air traffic control to ensure more sustainable and reliable air services in the Highlands and islands.
“No alternative has been proposed which addresses the issues that the project aims to resolve.
“We urge Hial’s staff to continue to play a constructive role as implementation of the project progresses.”