Air traffic controllers to strike over centralisation plans

Plans would see towers at Highlands and Islands airports closed with operations moved to Inverness.

Air traffic controllers to strike over centralisation plans iStock

Air traffic control workers are taking strike action over plans for remote towers at Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL).

Prospect union members have been refusing to engage with the proposals which include closing towers and centralising operations to Inverness.

On July 29, the workers will stage a one day strike saying the plans would remove high-value jobs from remote communities forcing redundancies.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said: “Prospect members are not averse to change but it has to be done in a way that maintains jobs and skills in remote communities. HIAL needs to halt these plans now so our members can get on with their jobs.

“The Scottish Government has the power to step in on this debate but the minister hasn’t even taken the time to meet the local councils involved, or indeed is own MSPs, to discuss the impact of the remote towers project.

“We have since had the bizarre situation where UK minister Michael Gove discussed the matter with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar while the minister refuses.”

Under the proposals, air traffic control for Inverness, Sumburgh in Shetland, Dundee, Kirkwall in Orkney and Stornoway in Lewis would be controlled centrally with unoccupied towers feeding data to the main Inverness office.

The strike starts at 00.01am on July 29 and will last for 24 hours with industrial action already in place to continue before and after. The action already in place includes staff working to rosters, a ban on overtime, refusing shift extensions, except for search and rescue, and refusing to train new controllers.

Inglis Lyon, HIAL’s managing director, said: “We are extremely disappointed to have received this formal notice without any prior intimation from Prospect.

“This action will inflict additional disruption and inconvenience on passengers at such a crucial time for the communities of the Highlands and Islands. It will also have an impact on the aviation sector which serves them and which is seeking to get back on its feet following the worst of the pandemic.

“We will work closely with our airline partners to keep disruption to a minimum and apologise for the undoubted inconvenience this action will cause.

“Given the positive response from Prospect to the policies relating to the modernisation project this is bitterly disappointing. We ask that Prospect work with HIAL on completing the policy work before considering strike action and to meet with HIAL in the interim to agree how this might happen.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is disappointing the union is taking strike action, which will clearly impact passengers.

“We continue to encourage Prospect to engage with HIAL to ensure the successful implementation of the ATMS project.

“It remains the case that no alternative has been proposed which addresses the issues that the ATMS project aims to resolve.”

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