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Transport / SIC transport chairman backs striking air traffic controllers

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

THE COUNCIL’s transport committee chairman says he is fully behind air traffic controllers who have chosen to strike later this month.

Councillor Ryan Thomson also said it is “utterly shameful and embarrassing for the HIAL board” that Loganair has been forced to cancel all flights to and from Shetland on the strike day.

Sumburgh Airport, as well as Kirkwall, Stornoway, Inverness, Dundee and Benbecula, will all close on 29 July.

It centres on anger over plans from airport operator HIAL to centralise air traffic control at most airports in the Highlands and Islands to Inverness.

An impact assessment shows that this could lead to the loss of 17 full-time equivalent jobs from Shetland.

Councillor Ryan Thomson.

While Loganair has cancelled all flights on 29 July at the affected airports, it is scheduling extra services around the strike day.

Air traffic controllers who are members of the Prospect union are behind the action.

Shetland Islands Council has been a critic of HIAL’s plans, and Thomson said the “ongoing farce” of centralising air traffic control must be “at least halted while all concerns are addressed”.

“Nothing good can come of this for Shetland and we must continue the fight to keep these jobs in our isles, for the benefit of our isles, our safety, and our reliance of service,” he said.

“HIAL must get round the table with stakeholders and put a halt to this. It’s time for HIAL to listen to the communities they represent.

“Although strike action is and should always be a last resort, I stand fully behind those choosing to strike in this instance.”

Speaking after the strike was announced by Prospect, HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said the action will “inflict additional disruption and inconvenience on passengers at such a crucial time for the communities of the Highlands and Islands”.

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“It will also have an impact on the aviation sector which serves them and which is seeking to get back on its feet following the worst of the pandemic,” he added.

“We will work closely with our airline partners to keep disruption to a minimum and apologise for the undoubted inconvenience this action will cause.”

In a new FAQ from HIAL, it was confirmed that air traffic control staff will provide cover for any medical and other emergencies which may arise on the strike day.

HIAL encouraged anyone with a flight for a health appointment that day to get in touch with their GP, hospital or clinic.

NHS Shetland’s patient travel manager Yvonne Graham, meanwhile, said: “Any patient affected by the strike action will be offered the option of travelling by ferry or to change their flights to the 28th or 30th July.

“Any accommodation costs they incur will be reimbursed in line with NHS Shetland’s Patient Travel Policy.”

Passengers should contact their airlines and travel insurance company in relation to compensation and claim for costs.

Sumburgh was also affected by strike action back in 2019 when air traffic controllers downed tools in protest over pay.

HIAL says its air traffic management strategy will modernise its service by improving resilience, enhancing safety and easing “staff recruitment and retention issues”.

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