Planned industrial action by air traffic controllers at airports in the Highlands and Islands has been suspended while talks continue.
A joint statement released by the Prospect union and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) on Monday said plans to introduce remote airport control towers had been “constructive”.
HIAL is planning to centralise operations in Inverness and introduce remote integrated air traffic control services for five airports – Inverness, Dundee, Stornoway, Kirkwall and Sumburgh.
The statement said the ongoing discussions are focusing on the introduction of a surveillance programme across the HIAL network – with surveillance services provided for Stornoway, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Inverness, and Dundee airports from a combined surveillance centre in Inverness.
It has also been agreed that further separate talks will take place on air traffic services for Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.
David Avery, negotiation officer for Prospect, said: “We welcome the decision of the HIAL board to work with their staff and communities to find a solution which not only delivers safety improvements but also protects local jobs and services.
“Prospect has always said that it wants to work with HIAL to come up with the best way to improve air traffic control services in the Highlands and Islands. This is a good step forward which we hope will eventually form the template for a safer and more effective ATMS (Air Traffic Management Strategy) while retaining most of the jobs and skills in remote communities.”
Previous industrial action in the long-running dispute has included staff working to rosters, a ban on overtime, refusing shift extensions – except for search and rescue, emergency and medical flights – and refusing to train new controllers.
Inglis Lyon, HIAL’s managing director, said: “This compromise will help both parties minimise the impact of the air traffic management programme on our communities and colleagues whilst continuing with key elements of the modernisation programme.
”Our airports provide lifeline and essential services and ensuring a safe and resilient air traffic management system that will future proof our airports remain our priority. The work we will undertake over the next few months will help us meet that objective.
“While there is much work to do before we have a final proposal, we are pleased with the progress that has been made. It is important that we have the time and space to continue these constructive talks and develop the proposal.”