HIGHLANDS and Islands Airports has said it plans to install a central air traffic control system to manage the flights in and out of its busiest bases amid pressure on costs and staff recruitment.

The regional operator expects to develop the first Remote Tower Centre of its kind in the UK to handle operations carried out at seven key airports stretching from Sumburgh on Shetland to Dundee.

A spokesman for the organisation said the plan may result in one or more of the air traffic control centres at the airports being closed down.

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However, while HIAL’s board has decided in principle to move to the Swedish-style single centre no decisions have been made about how the plan will be implemented. This includes where the centre will be built.

The spokesman said there are currently 75 air traffic control staff working for HIAL. That number is likely to remain the same after the process is completed, but people may be required to move.

The plan will be implemented over 10 to 15 years. It will involve an estimated £28 million investment.

HIAL lunched a review following increases in traffic and resultant regulatory changes.

Managing director Inglis Lyon said HIAL is managing a range of challenges given the nature and location of its business and airports.He noted: “These include staff recruitment and retention, increasing regulation, and increasing pressure on costs.”

HIAL said the proposals will include Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Wick John O’Groats, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Benbecula airports. Barra, Tiree, Islay and Campbeltown have different levels of air traffic usage and will not be affected.