SHETLAND’S busy oil airport at Scatsta is set to cut staff by almost a third over the next few months in response to the offshore industry contracting its North Sea operations in the wake of the oil price fall.
Airport operators Serco confirmed this week they are looking to cut their 107 strong workforce by 25 to 30 per cent by the end of the year.
Scatsta airport has seen rapid growth over the past 20 years with its workforce expanding more than threefold on the back of growth in activity offshore, with the opening up of the north Atlantic oil and gas fields.
A multi million pound investment programme over the past five years has given the airport a new lease of life, with a brand new terminal, control tower, hangar and navigational aids, and further improvements on the cards.
However the collapse in the oil price last year has seen major job losses and efficiencies to save money being introduced right across the industry, some of which are now filtering through to the airport.
For example, fewer flights will now be needed to service the new three week on/three week off shift pattern, which replaces a two week on/three week off system.
Oil companies Shell, Petrofac and Inquest are also ceasing to fly workers offshore in helicopters from Shetland.
As a result Serco is now looking for voluntary redundancies and offering to redeploy staff within the airport or elsewhere within the multinational’s giant empire, which includes the northern isles ferry service.
Some staff have already left and are not being replaced, while others have started retraining in other posts, such as air traffic control officers.
But the company only expects half of the required number of redundancies to be met voluntarily.
Airport director John Thorne said he had already briefed staff on the impact of the reduced flying schedule and how it will affect Scatsta.
“We have asked for applications to a voluntary redundancy programme and offered possible redeployment to other Serco contracts,” he said.
“We are currently in discussion with the unions and employees and it is very important that employees know first how this will affect them and when.”
Shetland Islands Council’s development committee chairman Alastair Cooper, who represents the islands’ north mainland where the airport is based next to the Sullom Voe oil terminal and the new gas plant, said he was concerned about the airport’s future.
“I am concerned for the workers at Scatsta because it is a very significant employer in the area,” he said.
He said that in some ways Shetland was living in a “fool’s paradise”, with talk of full employment and more work than workers to carry it out.
“That bubble could very quickly burst and you can’t easily replace 100 reasonably well paid jobs at Scatsta,” he said.
One insider claimed the airport’s prospects were in a state of flux with plans for the future changing on a weekly or even daily basis. However he was confident business would pick up next year.
Meanwhile BP has reasserted its “current commitment” to flights at Scatsta, adding it was working with Bristows to understand the implications of Shell withdrawing from the Integrated Aviation Consortium (IAC) that bankrolls the airport’s operations.
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