Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) is seeking a contractor to provide a state-of-the-art simulator to train controllers ahead of centralising air traffic control services.
Politicians and union bosses across the region have been vocal in opposition to HIAL progressing with their proposal for a remote towner.
HIAL, which has purchased a site in Inverness for the remote tower, is now seeking a contractor to provide a simulator to train controllers at a cost of £240,000.
The move comes as the Uist Economic Task Force joined Benbecula Community Council in “the fight against the downgrade of their lifeline airport”.
A HIAL spokesman said: “The simulator will be used in a research and development context which will enable new procedures to be worked up and tested, permit camera location positions to be modelled, demonstrate the ability to use multi-runway operations utilising the 3D tower simulation and testing of radar in the tower procedures that form part of our air traffic management programme.”
Earlier this month the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee heard from campaigners urging HIAL to halt its plans to centralise air traffic control services.
The company, which is 100% owned by Scottish ministers and runs 11 airports, says the plan will solve recruitment issues and make it sustainable in the long-term.
Shetland’s MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “The community concerns around the remote towers project have been clear as day. But still, HIAL is determined to press on.
“The extortionate costs of such a deeply unpopular project will be no surprise to HIAL’s management though. Their own consultants identified it as the most risky and costly option.
“Modernisation is necessary, but games are being played with a lifeline service. HIAL and the Scottish Government has failed to keep islanders’ best interests are at the heart of these plans.”
The Uist Economic Task Force has joined Benbecula Community Council in fighting “against the downgrade of their life-line airport”.
In a meeting with Uist Councillors in January, Hial management said the removal of ATC from Benbecula was a necessary step due to changing regulatory requirements.
However the Prospect Union confirmed with the CAA that maintaining ATC at Benbecula will still be a viable option in the future.
Councillor Iain MacNeil, chairman of Uist Economic Task force, said he “demands that HIAL are open with them about the real reasons for the decision to downgrade Benbecula Airport”.
He said that as Benbecula relies on daily connections with Stornoway, Inverness and Glasgow, without ATC, the Uist community was likely to suffer more frequent delays and cancellations in addition to those already caused by adverse weather.
He added: “Downgrading Benbecula airport is not the only option open to HIAL and we demand that the other options are put on the table and properly assessed.
“We believed that the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 would give our island communities a voice in Holyrood and that the Scottish Ministers would now perform their ‘duty to have regard to island communities’.
“This has not happened. The eight Members of HIAL’s Board who approved the downgrade decision have never lived in the Scottish islands and yet they can decide the future of our lifeline services without consulting us.
“We will be submitting a new petition to the Scottish Government calling on HIAL’s Framework document to be amended to require that the HIAL Board contains some members who represent the island communities HIAL serves.”
Vanessa Langley, Member of Benbecula Community Council, added: “Our fragile community depends on Benbecula Airport for business, connecting with family, holidays and healthcare such as cancer treatment, pregnancy scans and surgical operations.
“What are routine appointments for those in the cities requiring a couple of hours out of the school or work, can mean a two-night stay in Glasgow or Inverness for a Uist resident.
“This is our airport as we are the ones who use it so this is not an operational issue for HIAL Management to decide on and we ask HIAL to be open as to why they are downgrading the airport when there is a viable option to retain ATC.”