Highlands and Islands air traffic controllers set to continue strike



Air traffic controllers at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) have voted in favour of continuing a strike over the centralisation of operations.

The Prospect union confirmed the extension of industrial action by serving HIAL with a formal notice on 3 June following a ballot which closed the day before.

HIAL has proposed using a central hub in Inverness to control air traffic at the airport, along with those at Sumburgh, Dundee, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

Unmanned towers would be located at Sumburgh in Shetland, Dundee, Wick John O’Groats, Kirkwall in Orkney, and Stornoway and Benbecula in the Western Isles.

Prospect said the move would result in the loss of 50 jobs. Since January, the members have refused to cooperate with HIAL’s air traffic project by refusing to work overtime and to assist in the training for new recruits.

It has advised HIAL industrial action will continue from 18 June.

HIAL responded: “The continuation of the existing action will impact our passengers, the communities we serve, and our airlines at a time when we are beginning to see confidence in air travel return and passenger numbers increasing across all of our airports.

“We absolutely recognise the personal impact on those affected and will continue dialogue with Prospect to agree and finalise various policies to support our air traffic colleagues through the transition.”

HIAL previously explained that the air traffic management system needed to be upgraded to meet operational needs, adding that similar digital tower technology had been operational since 2015 and was already being used – or in the process of being introduced – across Europe.

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However, a recent independent impact assessment stated that the plans would bring “very significant negative impacts” for islands communities in terms of the loss of “high quality employment”, along with the loss of the economic benefits of the salaries involved.

The total associated employment across the five airports is about 76 full-time posts.

HIAL said its aim was to staff the new hub with existing air traffic services employees and forecast that by 2027 the workforce could grow to 96 posts.

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