Carmichael leads debate on Air Traffic Control centralisation concerns and Kirkwall Airport incident

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has led a Westminster debate on issues relating to the Civil Aviation Authority and aviation safety. In the debate Mr. Carmichael raised a range of concerns relating to the safety of proposed centralisation of air traffic control in the Highlands and Islands to Inverness using remote camera masts, noting risks to the resilience of such a system and the potential harm to the economies of island communities. Mr. Carmichael also highlighted the continuing concerns relating to the incident of 5 April 2019, when a flight left Kirkwall Airport without air traffic control support, and in particular the lack of public information about the findings of the investigations.

Responding for the Government, Paul Maynard, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, said:

[Regarding the Kirkwall Airport incident] “After concluding its investigation, the Civil Aviation Authority highlighted its findings with the organisations involved during the summer. The ​CAA has since held several meetings with the airport to discuss progress. The airport has also conducted its own investigation, and as a result commissioned a study into the findings raised by its own report. The right hon. Gentleman might wish to request that report from the airport company.

“I assure the Chamber that, before any new air traffic management system could take effect, the CAA would need to approve it. In giving its approval, the CAA would be bound by ​its overarching duty for the maintenance of air safety, so Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd will need to make sure that its proposals satisfy the local conditions.”

Summing up at the end of the debate, Mr. Carmichael said:

“We will continue to ​pursue this issue, because it is not going away. I note what [the Minister] said about the determination of the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that this application is treated and examined in the context of its facts and circumstances.

“I note what the Minister said about the circumstances surrounding the investigation into the incident on 5 April 2019. I strongly remain of the view that sunlight is often the best disinfectant. At some point, some of the information will have to find its way into the public domain.”

Commenting afterwards, Mr. Carmichael said:

“I am glad that the Minister recognised the need for caution in moving forward with any remote centralisation of air traffic control. I believe, however, that practical concerns about implementation cannot be the only criteria. The impact of withdrawing local jobs and support from communities must be taken into account and I am concerned about the way in which HIAL is pressing forward with their proposals with little regard for this.

“I have seen reports following the debate that HIAL is not inclined to share its own investigation into the Kirkwall Airport incident. While it has a right to its own internal processes, I believe that it is in the interest of all involved to resolve this issue clearly and openly. The initial incident last year was debated and contested in public, and it is only reasonable that the final conclusions should be shared publicly as well, to ensure public confidence in local aviation.”

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