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Transport / HIAL boss calls for more talks as strike looms

Sumburgh Airport.

THE HEAD of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) has urged striking air traffic controllers to “get back round the table” to end a long-running pay dispute.

Inglis Lyon said that HIAL was “fully prepared” for three days of industrial action that will see six airports closed due to strikes, including Sumburgh on Monday 22 July.

Council inter-island flights from Tingwall Airport, meanwhile, will also be cancelled on Monday as a knock-on effect due to Scatsta Airport turning down a request for it to be a diversionary airport.

The strikes were called following the rejection of HIAL’s most recent offer on 4 July that would have seen air traffic controllers benefit from a retention allowance that would have added £10,000 over a five-year-period to their wages.

According to HIAL, a counter offer presented by the controllers’ union Prospect “significantly exceeds the flexibility and affordability of a publicly owned organisation.”

Lyon, the managing director of the government-owned HIAL, said: “Throughout this process, HIAL has been committed to resolving this dispute and has submitted a number of proposals that have been rejected outright by the union.

“We deeply regret the inconvenience and upset to hundreds of passengers affected by the strike action. We wish to find a resolution to this dispute as soon as possible and would urge Prospect to sit down with us once again to find some common ground on which we can arrive at a negotiated settlement.

“Our position has been consistent throughout: we can only deliver an affordable settlement within the terms of public sector pay policy. So far Prospect has continued to ask for a pay increase far in excess of what we are able to afford and that unfortunately remains the situation.

“We remain committed to resolving the dispute and will continue to explore potential solutions within our affordability. Our latest offer of a retention allowance of £10,000 over a five year period remains on the table.”

He said that the industrial action was having a “significant impact” on passengers, communities and the airlines” operating from HIAL airports.

“We would encourage Prospect to revisit the offer and bring this dispute to an end,” Lyon added.

Prospect’s negotiating officer David Avery previously said: “While we will seek to avoid disrupting major events as much possible, any strike action is disruptive by its nature, particularly during the school holidays.

“We would like to reiterate that we have been seeking to resolve this dispute for more than a year and this action is only being taken as a last resort.”

The airports that will be closed to air traffic are: Sunday 21 July – Inverness Airport; Monday 22 July – Sumburgh Airport, Kirkwall Airport; Tuesday 23 July – Stornoway Airport, Benbecula Airport, Dundee Airport.

Airtask, the operator of council flights at Tingwall Airport, said in an update on Friday that it used Scatsta as a diversionary airport during the first air traffic controller strike in May.

“During previous ATC industrial action which closed Sumburgh Airport the inter island flights operated to schedule using Scatsta as a diversionary airport,” it said.

“Airtask requested the same arrangements to be in place to cover the action planned for Monday 22nd July but this has been denied. All Monday flights are now cancelled.”

General Election - 12 December 2019