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Transport / Air traffic controllers to escalate industrial action over remote tower plans

HIAL accuses the union of putting existing routes under unsustainable pressure at a time the country emerges from lockdown

HIAL employs 55 air traffic controllers.

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

The Prospect union said the escalation of industrial action will include work to rosters, an overtime ban and refusal of extensions except for search and rescue, emergency and medical flights.

This action is in addition to the continuous action short of a strike notified on the 21 December, which started on 4 January and consists of a refusal to engage with the proposals.

The government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) aims to modernise air traffic control services at Sumburgh, and a number of other airports in the region, by moving them to a central facility in Inverness.

A recently published islands impact assessment highlighted that the plans would bring the potential loss of 17 well-paid full-time equivalent jobs at Sumburgh Airport with a total gross salary of £670,000.

Prospect negotiator David Avery said: “Prospect has presented a raft of evidence against remote towers, including an independent report into its viability, and HIAL’s own impact assessment published recently shows the negative impact it will have on communities, but HIAL are pressing on regardless.

“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.

“HIAL claim that the current system is inflexible and unsustainable, this is simply not the case. Staff come in early and stay late to accommodate aircraft to ensure that their local communities remain connected. Where there have been staffing problems in the past the staff have gone above and beyond to ensure airports remain open.

“It is not too late for HIAL and the Scottish Government to think again, cancel this harmful project and come up with an acceptable way to modernise services.”

HIAL has repeatedly defended its plans as a safe way to deliver air traffic services in the future via a “long-term, sustainable solution to address underlying structural air traffic control issues, as well as staff retention and recruitment challenges across many locations”.

It says the remote tower plan will improve air traffic management resilience, as well as provide a centre of excellence for air traffic management, and training facilities.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said the union’s action was unwarranted as it “could put existing routes under unsustainable pressure, just as the country is emerging from lockdown.

“We would not be undertaking this hugely complex project unless we believed it was absolutely necessary to do so,” Lyon said.

We have repeatedly said ATMS is the only option that allows us to move forward in a way that ensures the long-term future of air services for the Highlands and Islands and that remains the case. For its part Prospect has repeatedly failed to provide a credible alternative.

“Notwithstanding that HIAL operates a no redundancy policy, Prospect repeats its inaccurate claim that HIAL will make 50 staff redundant.

“Our air traffic controllers are highly-valued colleagues and we will work closely with them as we go through a period of significant change and necessary modernisation in the way air traffic management is delivered.”

Politicians have been angered by the plans, with a motion to go in front of Shetland councillors on Wednesday calling for the project to be paused.