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Community / HIAL accepts more needs to be done to help staff affected by loss of local air traffic control jobs

Lorna Jack chairs the HIAL board of director. Screenshot: Shetland News

THE CHAIR of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited’s (HIAL) board of directors has called on local employees to engage with them to find ways to mitigate the impact of job losses among island based air traffic controllers.

Lorna Jack was talking to Shetland News after a damning impact assessment study told HIAL they had to do more to help staff who will be affected by the centralisation of air traffic control services in Inverness.

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Jack said she and her management colleagues had not been anticipating a different outcome.

And while the report by Reference Economic Consultants acknowledges that the controversial project of removing air traffic control from airports in Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, as well as Dundee and Inverness, to a remote surveillance centre at the outskirts of Inverness will have a net-positive impact on the whole area, it was very clear that individual island communities and the employees based there would suffer from the change.

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“We think this is the only viable option, it covers all the original objectives of the project, and everybody is now accepting that we do need to do some different from what we currently got – our objective is to keep all these airports open in the long-term,” Jack said.

And appealing directly to the employees who are affected by the move, she said: “This is not personal, we do this to serve communities in the long-term.

“This is very difficult because these are highly valued local colleagues, there will be change for them on a personal level.

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“My message is: engage with us because we try to find the best way to make this fit with what your personal desires are.”

Jack said she had already written to all council leaders in the affected areas to explore options to cushion the economic blow, but she hopes that a majority of employees would consider relocating to Inverness.

The reports finds that as many as 17 full-time equivalent jobs in air traffic control at Sumburgh will go by March 2024 with the loss of around £670,000 in annual wages to employees living in the south mainland of Shetland.

Jack said she could see HIAL trying to help provide different aviation jobs to the area, similar to an announcement made earlier this year for Kirkwall Airport where the UK’s first low carbon aviation test centre is to be established.

And following the experiences of the last 12 months of working in a home office, she said she could also envisage a number of head office jobs dispersing to the island communities.

“There might other things we could do to replace high value jobs with high value jobs, although they would not the same and would also not necessarily sit all within our organisation,” she said.

“That’s why it is important that we engage with economic development professionals.”

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