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Shelved: HIAL’s Remote Towers Project

Air Traffic Control Officers working at Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) are celebrating success today in their campaign to preserve high value jobs in the communities they serve.

The plan by HIAL to relocate Air Traffic Control jobs to Inverness has been shelved. Prospect, the trade union representing the air traffic controllers 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.

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.”

The HIAL Board met on 24 January to discuss the future direction for its air traffic management strategy (ATMS).

Lorna Jack, HIAL’s Chair 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.”

The statement from HIAL said:

Following extensive discussion, the Board agreed the future strategic direction for the ATMS programme. This will comprise a centralised surveillance operation for Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Inverness, and Dundee airports, based at our existing approach radar facility on the Inverness Airport Site.  Air traffic tower services will continue to be provided locally at each of these airports.

Prospect state that Air traffic services will still be modernised but in a way that protects 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 air traffic services for Benbecula and Wick John O’Groats airports.

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.”

Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of HIAL 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.”

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