Transport / Air traffic staff vote for industrial action

The control tower at Sumburgh Airport.

AIR traffic controllers at airports in the Highlands and Islands are to take industrial action over plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness.

Action will commence on 4 and 5 January, and it will initially consist of the withdrawal of any work relating to airport operator HIAL’s remote towers plan and the closure of local air traffic facilities.


The action will involve members of the Prospect union.

Around four in five Prospect members working as air traffic staff for HIAL said in a recent ballot that they would take part in industrial action short of a strike.

Around two thirds said they would take part in strike action.

Locally the controversial plans mean that air traffic controllers at Sumburgh would be asked to relocate to Inverness, with services carried out remotely.

Remote aviation services would also be in place in Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

The remote tower programme has also endured fierce criticism from local authorities and politicians, with the loss of local jobs a key factor.


Due to the ongoing pandemic Prospect members have decided not to take either strike action or action short of a strike, which would cause disruption to travellers or local economies.

The ballot does gives Prospect a mandate to take further action, however, including strike action at a later date.

Prospect negotiator David Avery said: “Prospect have presented a raft of evidence against remote towers, including an independent report into its viability but HIAL are pressing on regardless.

“Our members are not against change but this is the wrong plan and at a time when aviation is being decimated by the pandemic there are better things to spend taxpayers’ money on.


“Our members, working in safety critical roles, are being asked to give their time to develop a project which they don’t want, which is reduces safety, which will remove substantial money from local economies, and will make them redundant.

“Withdrawing cooperation from this project is the best way for our members to take industrial action without further impacting the communities they serve.

“HIAL and the Scottish Government have the opportunity to think again, cancel this harmful project and come up with an acceptable way to modernise services.”

A HIAL spokesperson said in response: “The fundamental purpose of any air traffic control operation is safety.

“New technology is improving the resilience of air traffic management systems around the world and we are acting now to modernise our operations to ensure they are safe and sustainable for decades to come. If we do not, we cannot guarantee services in the future.

“HIAL operates in highly regulated environment and the Civil Aviation Authority, as industry regulator, would not permit any development which compromised safety.


“This investment in a new operating model is absolutely critical to a viable future for our network and the lifeline transport services and communities that rely upon them. The current pandemic has underlined the critical role of HIAL’s airports in connecting our communities, but is has also highlighted the fragility and lack of resilience in our current air traffic delivery model.

“HIAL operates a no-compulsory redundancy policy, yet Prospect continue to sensationalise the situation claiming that 50 staff will be made redundant. This is simply not the case. We have also offered an evidence-led rebuttal of the inaccuracies in the Prospect report, and we are disappointed that this has not been recognised.

“We absolutely understand the personal impact on those affected. Our first facilitated meeting with Prospect and ACAS took place on 16 December. We will continue dialogue with Prospect and have meetings scheduled in the new year to review and agree various policies to support our air traffic colleagues during this transition.

“Prospect has advised that it is limiting its action at this time. However, any future industrial action of any kind will directly affect our passengers, as well as the communities we serve and our airlines, both already significantly impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”

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”.