An independent consultants’ report has warned of a serious impact on the economy of Scottish island communities if air traffic control is switched to one base in Inverness.
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) plans to automate local control – and shed staff in Lewis, Orkney, Shetland and Dundee.
The Prospect union fears 50 job losses, but Hial said it must modernise air traffic control.
Under the proposals, air traffic control for Inverness, Sumburgh in Shetland, Dundee, Kirkwall in Orkney and Stornoway in Lewis would be controlled centrally.
Unmanned towers would feed information to the hub, located in an Inverness office.
Hial said its aim was to staff the city office with existing employees and has forecast that, by 2027, the workforce could grow from 76 to 96.
The consultants’ impact assessment – commissioned by Hial – said the plan would bring “very significant negative impacts” for islands communities in terms of loss of “high quality employment” and loss of the economic benefits of the salaries involved.
Hial chairwoman Lorna Jack said carrying out the impact assessment showed the company’s “commitment to listen and do everything we possibly can to mitigate any impacts”.
She added that the proposals were the “only option”.
Hial’s managing director Inglis Lyon added: “To date, there have been no alternative proposals that provide a solution that fully addresses all of the challenges Hial currently faces.”
Prospect union negotiations officer David Avery said: “The long overdue impact assessment shows what staff have been warning since the start of this project, that significant and unmitigable damage will be inflicted on island communities.
“The report is absolutely damning in its assessment of the damage this project will cause. Centralisation remains the most expensive and most economically damaging option and yet Hial are determined to continue with it.”
Hial has written to all relevant local authorities to request meetings and has offered to work with others to identify where it can contribute further to local economies.