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Politics / Politicians unite in opposition against air traffic control centralisation plans

Sumburgh Airport was affected by strike action on 29 July. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

ATTENDEES of a ‘job summit’ organised by the Prospect union in response to plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness have agreed to continue working together and seek a collective meeting with Scottish Government ministers to find a way forward out of the increasingly bitter dispute.

Government owned airport operator Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL) wants to remove air traffic control jobs from airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Dundee and Inverness and operate the service remotely from an office building in Inverness.

The controversial move, planned to become a reality by 2023/24, would mean the loss of a significant amount of professional jobs from rural areas, including 17 from Shetland.

A one-day strike was held at the end of last month in a protest from air traffic controllers.

Prospect negotiations officer David Avery said: “The proposal to remove these highly skilled jobs from Highlands and Islands has united communities and politicians from all parties in opposition and that was reflected at this incredibly positive meeting.”

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, who attended the cross-party job summit, said the meeting was united in wanting better for the communities they serve.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

“We have to remember why HIAL was set up. It was because it was clear to everyone that the free market alone was not going to be sufficient and so a publicly owned company was needed, with a community ethos and understanding that this is about more than the transaction of services,” he said.

“HIAL as a company has lost its way. It has forgotten its social and community purpose and that is reflected in the makeup of their current board.

“We have to recognise that this is a political problem in need of a political solution because HIAL have made it clear that they will not change course without a political intervention.

“They simply do not believe that they have any social responsibility to the communities they serve.

“It’s time to leave the party rosettes at the door – and I am glad to say that this is what everyone participating has done. This is a problem that needs to be tackled by all of us acting on behalf of the Highlands and Islands and its people, and this is the moment when we must make the case for ministers to listen to the communities involved and change direction.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, who also took part, said: “I was pleased to attend Thursday’s meetings with MPs, MSPs and councillors from all parties across the Highlands and Islands, and look forward to continuing to work together on our shared concerns about HIAL’s remote tower project.”

Avery added: “We will be seeking an early meeting with Scottish Government ministers to ask that they engage fully with the concerns about this project and seriously consider alternative proposals that would retain jobs in these communities whilst enhancing safety and resilience.”

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”.

Further reading: Welcome to Quango Scotland – the new Scottish democracy