A petition asking the Scottish Parliament to halt Highlands and Islands Airports Limited’s (HIAL) plans to downgrade services in Benbecula and Wick has so far gained over 400 signatures.

Formed by the Benbecula Community Council, the petition also pushes back against HIAL's intention to introduce remote tower technology at five other airports.

HIAL's plans mean that an Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) would be introduced in Benbecula, replacing the current Air Traffic Control (ATC) service, meaning pilots would only receive generic information on other aircraft in the vicinity.  

Fears have been raised that this would result in safety issues and an increase of flight delays.  The petition urges that plans are suspended until the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have published their guidance.

The petition commented that the downgrade would cause "a significant increase in the number of flight delays" as "no positive deconfliction advice to aircraft pilots in the air is possible with AFIS."

The petition continued: "Air Traffic Controllers provide a layer of safety which will be removed from scheduled passenger flights, ambulance flights, transiting military aircraft, private visiting aircraft and helicopters used by local businesses such as fish-farms.

"Benbecula has military Ranges in the vicinity, and both airports have nearby aeronautical Danger Areas which can, if active, affect aircraft flight paths and profiles in/out of these airports." 

HIAL have indicated that their Benbecula plans would come into effect no earlier than December 2021.  However, they stated: "Whilst informal discussion has taken place with the CAA, no change can take place until such time as an operational plan, detailed safety case and comprehensive transition plan has been submitted to the CAA for consideration and approval."

Benbecula Community Council said: "The Benbecula Community Council have heard from current and former workers at Benbecula Airport detailing the concerns about the new plans from HIAL. As a community organisation we are very concerned about the impact that these proposals will have locally. The loss of good jobs in Benbecula will be very damaging to Uist at a time where we need to retain these jobs to attract people to stay here in order to prevent depopulation.

"We are very concerned about the way HIAL has gone about developing and implementing these plans as there has been insufficient community consultation and we do not have confidence that they had the local circumstances in mind when developing these proposals. They also did not undertake an Islands Impact assessment when developing the plans, leading us to question whether or not the government really respects the Islands Act.

"The air service is extremely important to us with it being a lifeline for patients requiring services off-island. We believe that the proposals they have drawn up are not suitable for the climate in the Western Isles and could lead to a great deal of disruption."

The petition can be found on the Scottish Parliament's website here.  Its closing day is Wednesday 6 May.