AIR traffic control staff have been “forced” to take strike action today (Thursday) which will lead to the grounding of lifeline services in a dispute over cuts.
The Prospect union has said its members had no other choice but to go through with the stoppage which Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) has confirmed will result in six airports closing.
Loganair has confirmed that it will be unable to provide flights at airports operated by HIAL during the strike.
HIAL has said that as a result of strike action by air traffic controllers, Benbecula, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Sumburgh airports will be closed to all but emergency flights on Thursday for 24 hours.
Prospect has warned that the long-term future of lifeline services on Scottish islands is “at risk” through “staggering” plans to centralise air traffic control for seven airports and triggered public safety fears.
And they have defended the action saying it is an escalation in the industrial action which has been ongoing since January.
Prospect members in HIAL voted to continue industrial action, including the option for a strike, in June having initially voted for the action at the end of last year. “They are taking the action because HIAL is pressing ahead with plans to close air traffic towers in the Highlands and islands, centralising services in Inverness,” a Prospect spokesman said. “This would remove high value jobs from remote communities, impacting strongly on those economies, and result in forced redundancies as people are unwilling to relocate from the communities they love and serve, to Inverness.”
He said ministers have refused to even meet those communities involved to discuss the impact this project would have on them.
David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said: “Prospect members have been forced into strike action to protect jobs in the communities they serve. HIAL must halt its plan which will remove high value, skilled jobs from economies that can ill-afford to lose them, having a substantial negative impact on those communities.
“Prospect members are not averse to change but it has to be done in a way that maintains jobs and skills in remote communities.
“The Scottish Government also has the power to step in on this debate but has so far refused to even engage with its own elected representatives in the areas affected. If it was serious about standing up for the Highlands and Islands it would intervene.”
HIAL has been pushing ahead with plans to relocate air traffic work to one “remote site” in Inverness prompting fears that public safety at risk, according to the union.
Under HIAL’s plan, air traffic control for Inverness, Sumburgh in Shetland, Dundee, Kirkwall in Orkney, and Stornoway in the Western Isles would be controlled centrally.
Unmanned towers would feed information to a hub in Inverness.
It is claimed it will involve the removal of seven existing towers at Inverness, Dundee, Shetland, Orkney, Wick, Benbecula and Stornoway.
The Prospect union said the move would result in the loss of 50 jobs.
Since January the Prospect members have refused to work overtime, co-operate with HIAL’s air traffic project and refused to assist in the training for new recruits.
Loganair previously stated that the industrial action would affect six airports: Inverness, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Benbecula and Dundee and it will be cancelling all flights on July 29 to and from the five airports impacted.
It said that customers booked to travel on this date will have the option to transfer their booking without any change fee or difference in fare to another Loganair flight – on an alternative route if they wish – or to obtain a full refund if they no longer wish to travel.
Previous analysis from Prospect, which represents air traffic control staff at HIAL airports, suggested that moving air traffic control to Inverness would remove around £1.5m of direct employment from rural and island economies and would “run contrary” to the recently published Islands Plan produced by the Scottish Government which owns HIAL.
Proposals for a single remote tower centre – said to be a UK first -were first mooted three years ago as part of HIAL plans to “future-proof” its operations with an estimated £28 million investment over the next ten to 15 years.
Air traffic controllers would be moved to a central hub, the location of which had not then been decided.
HIAL said in December it would continue its dialogue with the union and has denied it was proposing job cuts.
In May executives at HIAL insisted their controversial plans to centralise air traffic control are on track despite a damning independent review of the project.
Flights to and from Islay, Barra, Tiree and Campbeltown will be unaffected as the Flight Information Service officers who oversee arrivals and departures at these airports are not part of the dispute.
A HIAL spokesman said: “HIAL’s position remains that jobs are not being cut – HIAL has a non-compulsory redundancy policy – but they are being moved.
“HIAL’s position has been consistent, that it remains committed to working with all colleagues to mitigate the effects of transitioning to the combined surveillance centre in Inverness. ”