The north’s controversial air traffic control centralisation plan has been branded “short-sighted” amid calls for it to be halted.
Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd (Hial) has gone to tender on the £8.5 million proposal to centralise services for airports in Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway remotely from a surveillance centre in Inverness.
It is expected the process will be completed by December or January.
But island representatives want a moratorium on the move until an islands impact assessment (IIA) is completed.
Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chairman of transportation and Infrastructure on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “It frankly beggars belief that Hial are proceeding with these proposals at a time when air travel is facing such a challenging time.
“It is short sighted in the extreme when we should all be working together to secure a sustainable future for air travel, tourism and island economies. As we look to an uncertain future we should be focussing on sustaining island economies rather than centralising services and employment in already prosperous areas of the country.”
He said a dispersed service will offer greater resilience considering the ongoing possible need for social distancing and restricted travel.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur and Orkney Islands Council are also critical of the plans going ahead before the impact assessment.
In response to a question from Mr McArthur, transport secretary Michael Matheson confirmed work to implement the strategy will continue alongside the IIA.
Mr Matheson said: “Good progress continues to be made with implementation of the air traffic management modernisation programme. That work will continue in parallel with work to prepare the IIA, and ongoing engagement with staff, unions, airport users and other stakeholders.”
Mr McArthur said: “If a major procurement process can be allowed to continue before any island impact assessment is completed, it rather suggests that Ministers have little interest in what that assessment might conclude.”
A Hial spokesman said procuring remote tower technology will help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and a flexible, resilient air traffic service.
“We have reviewed our capital programme to allow us to implement key projects, and have other projects shelf-ready for when we are able to return to some semblance of normality. We are also prioritising projects that will deliver local economic benefit within our communities.”
He added: “An island impact assessment is currently underway and is being undertaken by an independent consultant. This will include consultation with local authorities and community groups. It is anticipated that the process will be completed and a draft report produced by 29 June.
“While every endeavour will be made to maintain this timescale [for the IIA], we acknowledge that the current restrictions and physical (social) distancing requirements may require this timeline to be extended.”