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Transport / Air traffic controllers considering industrial action, union says

HIAL has suggested using ‘external facilitator to help resolve matters’

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

HIGHLANDS and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) says it is “very disappointed” to hear that air traffic staff in the region are considering industrial action over plans to centralise services in Inverness.

It comes after a survey of air traffic staff working for HIAL showed that 71 per cent of respondents supported strike action in relation to the controversial plans.

It means locally that air traffic controllers at Sumburgh would be asked to relocate to Inverness, with services carried out remotely.

HIAL, however, said it “categorically refuted” claims from union Prospect, which carried out the survey, that the plans could lead to the loss of 50 jobs.

The survey showed that 95 per cent of air traffic controllers supported modernisation of the facilities, but 83 per cent preferred to keep the current dispersed model in place.

Only five per cent of workers said they would be prepared to relocate to Inverness, assuming a suitable package was agreed.

Prospect negotiations officer David Avery said the plans are “deeply damaging”.

“Prospect never undertakes industrial action lightly but members feel they have been left with no choice but to support action to defend their communities,” he said.

“Prospect members are currently considering the form of action they might take so as to have a minimal impact on local communities particularly during the ongoing pandemic.

“Prospect received an invitation to further talks with HIAL yesterday evening and is considering its response.”

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said in response: “We were made aware of the outcome of Prospect’s survey amongst our air traffic colleagues and we are very disappointed they are considering industrial action.

“Such action is disruptive for our communities, businesses, travellers and airlines at any time, but is even more so during the current pandemic and at a time when the aviation industry is severely impacted by the effects of the virus.

“We wish to avoid industrial action and have therefore written to Prospect to suggest we engage the services of an external facilitator to help resolve matters and we await a response.

“We categorically refute Prospect’s claims of 50 staff redundancies. From the outset, we have been clear that HIAL has a no compulsory redundancy policy and we are exploring all options with our colleagues.”

The remote air traffic plans have drawn criticism from politicians, local authorities and former members of staff.

A spokesperson for HIAL previously said that the remote technology will “help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and deliver a flexible, resilient air traffic service that will be highly adaptable as we ensure our airports are fit for the future”.

The company said the plans will “modernise the way airspace is managed and, importantly, deliver safe and secure air navigation now and in the future”.