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.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News


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.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.