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Prospect union claims major victory after Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) confirms that air traffic control services in the region will continue to be provided locally at each of its sites and not centralised remotely in Inverness


By Ian Duncan

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Inverness Airport.
Inverness Airport.

A union is claiming a major success after Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) announced that air traffic tower services will continue to be provided locally at each of its sites.

The controversial plan to centralise the operation to a centre in Inverness had been strongly opposed by unions and politicians because it was feared that it would lead to job losses in remote communities.

Prospect’s air traffic control officers working at Hial were celebrating today after it was announced that the project had been shelved and the high value jobs preserved.

The union had argued that moving to a remote tower in Inverness would compromise effectiveness, remove vital income from remote economies and inevitably result in redundancies.

Today’s decision comes after a series of highly constructive talks between Prospect and Hial management which began in October 2021.

As a result of the move air traffic services will still be modernised but in a way that protects existing jobs.

As well as abandoning remote towers the new plans include:

• the introduction of a surveillance programme across the Hial network with surveillance services provided for Stornoway, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Inverness, and Dundee airports from a combined surveillance centre in Inverness;

• air traffic tower services being provided locally at each of these airports;

• a review of air traffic provision against a scope, agreed by Hial and Prospect, 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 of air traffic services for Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.

David Avery, prospect negotiator, said: “This decision is an important one for Prospect members and hopefully brings to an end our long-running dispute with Hial over remote towers.

"We welcome 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.

“We look forward to working with Hial to bring through these modernisations.”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “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.”

Hial's board met on Monday to discuss the future direction of its Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS).

Several working groups and air traffic control staff members had provided the board with a number of informed proposals for alternative delivery options.

The board subsequently agreed the future direction for the programme which Prospect will ballot members on its acceptance.

Lorna Jack, Hial’s chairwoman, said: “We’ve listened to the feedback from our colleagues and island communities in reaching our decision.

"This alternative delivery of the ATMS programme will provide enhanced safety and resilience to our operations and 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. This will include a review of our island impact assessment.”

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited managing director Inglis Lyon.
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited managing director Inglis Lyon.

Inglis Lyon, Hial's managing director, said: “We were pleased to note the encouraging feedback from Prospect on the constructive working relations that have been developed through the staff working groups.

“We look forward to continuing this positive approach with Prospect and our colleagues as we move into the next phase of detailed operational design.

“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.”

Related article: Air Traffic Control plans for centralisation still under scrutiny says Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant after she gave a compelling statement against Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd's (Hial) ATMS centralisation plans to the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee

Related article: Talks timetable agreed between Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) and Prospect union over proposed air traffic management strategy (ATMS) which would centralise air traffic control operations in Inverness


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