Air traffic control staff to escalate industrial action

Members of Prospect will only work to rosters, ban overtime and refuse shift extensions – except for search and rescue.

Air traffic control staff to escalate industrial action PA Media via PA Ready
Action: Employees with the Prospect union have been refusing to engage with the proposals.

Air traffic control workers are to escalate industrial action over plans to introduce remote airport control towers at Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL).

Since December, employees with the Prospect union have been refusing to engage with the proposals which include closing workspaces, centralising operations to Inverness and downgrading airports.

But the action will now include staff working to rosters, a ban on overtime, refusing shift extensions – except for search and rescue – and refusing to train new controllers.

HIAL is planning to introduce the remote integrated air traffic control services for five airports; Inverness, Dundee, Stornoway, Kirkwall and Sumburgh.

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David Avery, the union’s negotiator, said: “Prospect has presented a raft of evidence against remote towers, including an independent report into [their] viability, and HIAL’s own impact assessment published recently shows the negative impact it will have on communities, but HIAL are pressing on regardless.

“This is the wrong plan and, at a time when aviation is being decimated by the pandemic, there are better things to spend taxpayers’ money on.

“HIAL claim that the current system is inflexible and unsustainable, this is simply not the case.

“Staff come in early and stay late to accommodate aircraft to ensure that their local communities remain connected.

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“Where there have been staffing problems in the past the staff have gone above and beyond to ensure airports remain open.

“It is not too late for HIAL and the Scottish Government to think again, cancel this harmful project and come up with an acceptable way to modernise services.”

As well as introducing the Combined Surveillance Centre in Inverness, Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports will change the way air traffic management is delivered by extending their current Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) operations.

It comes after Western Isles Council said the latest report earlier this month showed “in black and white” the plans will cost jobs and damage island economies.

An independent impact assessment of HIAL’s Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS) found there would be a “very significant negative impact” on employment in Lewis, Orkney and Shetland and a significant negative impact on the population there due to population loss.

HIAL previously said ATMS is the only modernising option which provides the necessary levels of resilience required to ensure “long-term, sustainable air traffic service provision for the communities we serve”.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We recognise the need to modernise ATC to ensure more sustainable and reliable air services in the Highlands and Islands.

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“No alternative has been proposed which addresses the issues that the project aims to resolve.

“We urge HIAL’s staff to continue to play a constructive role as implementation of the project progresses.”

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Further industrial action by Prospect will have significant impact on local communities and individuals who rely on HIAL’s airports.

“This action is unwarranted and at this time could put existing routes under unsustainable pressure, just as the country is emerging from lockdown.

“We would not be undertaking this hugely complex project unless we believed it was absolutely necessary to do so.

“Our air traffic controllers are highly-valued colleagues and we will work closely with them as we go through a period of significant change and necessary modernisation in the way air traffic management is delivered.”