Orkney’s politicians have welcomed the positive move by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) and Prospect (the trade union representing air traffic controllers) to discuss a way forward with the future of air traffic control at airports across the region.
Emma Roddick, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands said:
“I am delighted to hear that Prospect and HIAL have been able to come to an agreement regarding the future of the airports of the Highlands and Islands that respects the central role these airports play in the livelihoods of many people across the region.
“I have been urging HIAL since the start to listen to the concerns of its employees in their drive for modernisation and I am heartened to see this significant development in reaching a solution that guarantees no jobs are lost across our islands.”
And Orkney Constituency MSP, LibDem Liam McArthur also welcomed the talks. He said:
“Confirmation that industrial action is being suspended as talks between HIAL and Prospect continue will come as a relief to passengers and island communities.
“It is still not clear how substantive the proposed changes to HIAL’s centralisation plans actually are, but for as long as talks are ongoing there is hope that sense will prevail.
“The drive to centralise air traffic services has attracted widespread criticism. The sooner HIAL and Scottish Ministers accept that these proposals are unworkable and unwanted, the better.”
Welcoming the news but with many concerns still is Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Rhoda Grant. She said:
“It is to be welcomed that HIAL have finally agreed to sit round the table. One of my biggest concerns, among many, through this whole process has been HIAL’s refusal to properly engage with its staff on both their futures and on the safety and robustness of the plans, things with its staff have invaluable expertise on.
“It is yet to be seen whether they are coming to these discussions in good faith and with a willingness to adapt to the myriad concerns and flaws which have been identified, but by at least being willing to talk about these issues now HIAL has taken a step in the right direction.
“My growing concern now is, that because of the level of resistance from the local communities HIAL may try to take the long patient approach: phasing out the Air Traffic Control jobs from these communities as they become naturally vacant, acclimatising communities to drops in local service provision bit by bit and resulting in a long term loss of high quality jobs in rural areas.”
“I hope that this is not the long term plan, and I think if Minister of Transport Graeme Dey would step up and meet with the communities to hear their concerns then this may allay some of these fears. I fear this battle is long from over.”
Orkney Islands Council has also reacted to the news.
Leader of Orkney Islands Council, James Stockan, said:
“We are relieved to see HIAL and Prospect reach this middle ground and end the disruption that industrial action poses.
“HIAL’s proposed ATMS has generated significant and wide ranging concern since the plans emerged in 2018, and back then we made clear to HIAL and the Scottish Government our objections based on the impact of the loss of these well paid jobs across our islands.
“In spring this year Councillors passed a Notice of Motion calling upon the Scottish Government to require HIAL to pause their proposals in order to give proper consideration to the effect of them on our island communities – as highlighted in the findings of the independent Islands Impact Assessment undertaken by Reference Economic Consultants.
“While we are encouraged to see that – for the time being – air traffic services will continue to be provided locally at Kirkwall airport, we note this is only for the duration of a surveillance programme and we await more detail on what this entails.”