AIRPORTS in the Highlands and Islands, including at Sumburgh, will be affected by industrial action from air traffic controllers opposed to plans to centralise services in Inverness.
The Prospect union confirmed on Thursday morning that its members would stage a one day strike on 29 July.
Loganair has cancelled all flights at the affected airports, but it is scheduling extra services around the strike day.
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) said it was disappointed by Prospect’s move and assured the travelling public that it would try to keep disruptions to a minimum.
The move further escalates a long running dispute over plans by HIAL to remove air traffic control functions from the airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Inverness and operate the service remotely from an office building in Inverness.
An impact assessment, carried out on behalf of HIAL and published earlier this year, revealed that in Shetland alone 17 full-time equivalent air traffic controller jobs would disappear by 2024 with the loss of around £670,000 in annual wages.
Prospect has now stepped up its industrial actions because the Scottish Government owned airport operator is pressing ahead with plans to close air traffic towers in the Highlands and Islands, it said.
The union’s negotiator David Avery said ministers have refused to even meet those communities involved to discuss the impact this project would have on them.
“Our members have been forced into this escalation of industrial action to protect the communities they serve,” Avery said.
“HIAL’s plan will remove high value skilled jobs from economies that can ill-afford to lose them, having a substantial negative impact on those communities.
“The Scottish Government has the power to step in on this debate but the minster hasn’t even taken the time to meet the local councils involved, or indeed his own MSPs, to discuss the impact of the remote towers project.”
He added: “Prospect members are not averse to change but it has to be done in a way that maintains jobs and skills in remote communities. HIAL needs to halt these plans now so our members can get on with their jobs.”
HIAL’s managing director Inglis Lyon said the union’s action would inflict additional disruption and inconvenience on passengers at a time when the aviation sector is seeking to get back on its feet following the worst of the pandemic.
“We will work closely with our airline partners to keep disruption to a minimum and apologise for the undoubted inconvenience this action will cause,” he said.
“Given the positive response from Prospect to the policies relating to the modernisation project this is bitterly disappointing.
“We ask that Prospect work with HIAL on completing the policy work before considering strike action and to meet with HIAL in the interim to agree how this might happen.”
Loganair said that customers booked to travel on 29 July via Inverness, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Benbecula and Dundee will have the option to transfer their booking without any change fee or difference in fare to another Loganair flight – on an alternative route if they wish – or to obtain a full refund if they no longer wish to travel.
All customers on affected flights will receive an e-mail from Loganair today setting out these options and providing the link to manage their booking on-line via the Loganair website.
Loganair said there will be extra services on the evening of Wednesday 28 July departing Kirkwall at 7pm and arriving into Aberdeen at 7.50pm, and from Aberdeen to Kirkwall on Friday 30 July departing at 6.10am and arriving into Kirkwall at 7am.
It also plans to operate larger aircraft on several other services on Wednesday 28 July and Friday 30 July to provide additional seats to help customers re-arrange their travel plans.
Loganair CEO Jonathan Hinkles said: “We are hugely disappointed by this strike action by the union representing air traffic controllers at HIAL airports, and can only ask for our customers’ understanding that we are unable to avoid the inconvenience that these flight cancellations will inevitably cause to travel plans, hospital appointments and island deliveries of freight and mail.”
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