Plans to centralise Highland air traffic controllers scrapped

Proposals to install remote controlled towers in Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Dundee have been dropped.

Plans to centralise Highland air traffic controllers scrapped iStock

Air traffic controllers will remain at airports in the Highlands and Islands and Tayside after plans to centralise the work were scrapped.

Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) had planned to centralise operations from Inverness and install remote controlled air traffic controller towers in Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Dundee airports.

However, the move has been scrapped with air traffic tower services to continue to be provided locally at each of the affected airports.

It follows strike action by air traffic controllers over the plans, which saw six HIAL airports close for 24 hours as Prospect union members walked out over the previous proposal.

Prospect had argued that moving to a remote tower in Inverness would compromise effectiveness, remove vital income from remote economies and result in redundancies. 

HIAL said the decision announced on Thursday will now allow the Prospect union to ballot its members on the acceptance of the revised proposal.

The union said the announcement comes after a series of “highly constructive” talks between Prospect and Hial management which began in October 2021.

It said that air traffic services will still be modernised but in a way that protects jobs.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said: “This decision is an important one for Prospect members and hopefully brings to an end our long-running dispute with Hial over remote towers.

“We welcome HIAL’s commitment to modernising air traffic control services in a way that works for staff, communities and the business.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped us to reach this outcome. It would not have happened without the dedicated campaigning of Prospect members, and without the widespread support of communities and politicians across the affected areas.

“We look forward to working with Hial to bring through these modernisations.”

The HIAL board agreed that a further working group should be established to discuss the “future service delivery options” for Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.

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