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Transport / Change in direction for HIAL saves island air traffic control jobs

Sumburgh Airport is one of 11 airports under HIAL's wing.
Air traffic control services will continue to be provided from Sumburgh Airport.

THE LONG running dispute over HIAL’s remote tower project appears to be over with the assurance that high value jobs at island airports such as Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway have been saved.

Following the conclusion of discussions between Highlands and Islands Airports Limited and the Prospect union, which began in October last year, both sides of the dispute expressed their satisfaction with the compromise reached.

As part of the new plan air traffic tower services will continue to be provided locally at Sumburgh, Stornoway, Kirkwall, Inverness and Dundee airports, while a surveillance programme across the HIAL network will be introduced from a combined surveillance centre in Inverness.

The government-owned airport operator had planned to centralise air traffic control services to a remote tower at the outskirts of Inverness but it had to rethink its plans when faced with strong opposition from the union, politicians and the communities it serves.

Island impact assessments carried out for each of the island locations clearly demonstrated the negative impact the controversial move would have had.

Earlier this week HIAL published a breakdown of the £9 million already spent on its Air Traffic Management Strategy [ATMS] project.

The compromise reached with the union also includes:

  • A review of air traffic provision against a scope to inform the next steps of the programme.  The review to be undertaken at the end of the surveillance programme, or at five years, whichever is soonest;
  • A review of the proposed downgrade air traffic services for Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.

Prospect negotiator David Avery welcomed HIAL’s commitment to modernising air traffic control services in a way that works for staff, communities and the business.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped us to reach this outcome. It would not have happened without the dedicated campaigning of Prospect members, and without the widespread support of communities and politicians across the affected areas,” he said.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy added: “This is an important result not only for Prospect members but also for the communities they serve.

“I want to congratulate them and everyone else involved – this shows what we can achieve when we combine the power of unions with the voice of local communities.”

Following a meeting of the HIAL board earlier this week in which the “future strategic direction” was approved by members, board chair Lorna Jack confirmed on Thursday that the “alternative delivery of the ATMS programme” would “retain air traffic controllers on the islands”.

“While this sets the future strategic direction for the programme, the board recognises that further detailed work will be required with colleagues before a comprehensive business case can be presented to Transport Scotland,” she said.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon added: “We hope the Board’s decision will enable the current industrial action to be brought to a conclusion and allow us to move forward together to deliver our fundamental aim – a modern, sustainable air traffic service for the Highlands and Islands.”

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur welcomed the announcement. He said: “While news that these vital jobs will be retained in Orkney is welcome, HIAL must now remove any possibility that these ill-conceived plans might make a reappearance somewhere down the line.

“Staff and communities have faced years of uncertainty and they deserve nothing less.  This agreement must spell the end of attempts to centralise air traffic services in the Highlands & Islands.

“Meantime, though, serious questions remain about why it took so long to get to this stage.  On cost, deliverability and island impact, these plans made no sense.  While modernisation of air traffic services is undoubtedly essential, claims by HIAL and SNP Ministers that centralisation was the only viable option was never true.”

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles welcomed the announcement stressing that the measures will enhance safety and help reduce aircraft carbon emissions.

“We are pleased to see HIAL’s commitment to introducing approach radar coverage at Kirkwall, Stornoway and Dundee airports in particular, together with relocating the approach facilities for Sumburgh Airport which have been handled remotely from Aberdeen for many years,” he said.

“The new technology will enable our aircraft to take more direct approach paths under radar surveillance into these airports, eliminating the need for circuitous procedural approaches and reducing carbon emissions by over two thousand tonnes each year.

“The developments will also bring additional safety protections to augment those in place today.   For all of these reasons, Loganair warmly welcomes today’s announcement by HIAL, and encourages other key stakeholders to lend their full support to these developments.”