THE regional airport operator in the Highlands is to invest an estimated £28 million in state-of-the-art air traffic management technology.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is set to “future proof” its operations in Scotland with the investment, setting the operator up for the next 10 to 15 years.

The long-term remote towers and centralised approach surveillance control programme will mirror an already successful project in Sweden and transform the organisation’s operations at key airports including Stornoway, Inverness and Dundee.

The HIAL Board yesterday agreed to the move in principle and will now hold further talks with staff, stakeholder groups and politicians around the implementation of the project. However, there will be no immediate changes to the existing HIAL operations.

Managing director, Inglis Lyon, said the decision was significant for the business: “Our overriding priority is and will always be, to deliver safe and secure air navigation services that will keep our airports open for local communities for the long term,” he said.

“Having already involved our air traffic control staff and key stakeholders in the full review of our air traffic management operations by leading aviation consultancy, Helios, the board have agreed in principle with the Helios recommendation to further pursue the remote towers solution.

“Our role is to ensure that the airport network benefits from investment in its long-term future, secured through new technology.”

No decisions have been made in terms of the location of the proposed operational centre which will be the first Remote Tower Centre of its kind in the UK.

The new proposals will include HIAL airports at Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Wick, John O’Groats, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Benbecula and timescales for the implementation of the project have still to be fully discussed and approved. HIAL airports at Barra, Tiree, Islay and Campbeltown have different levels of air traffic usage and will not be affected by the changes.

HIAL chairwoan, Lorna Jack, said the board was clear on the rationale and the benefits likely to be delivered by the new air traffic management solution proposed.

“This is an opportunity to invest in new high-tech skills as well as in new technology and our people will have the opportunity to be involved in delivering the air traffic controllers of the future,” she added.

HIAL is headquartered in Inverness and employs approximately 600 people across the Highlands and Islands, as well as Dundee, connecting Scotland to more than 30 UK and international destinations. In 2016-17 handled more than 1.66m passengers.