HIAL finally talk on air traffic control

The management of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited has finally agreed to talk about “alternative solutions” with the trade union representing air traffic controllers.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 9:58 am
Updated Thursday, 16th September 2021, 2:47 pm
CHANGE OF DIRECTION: After months of insisting that the centralisation plans were the only realistic option, HIAL have now agreed to discuss alternatives. Pic: Ronan Wilson

Further strike action has been put on hold though a work to rule will continue. The dispute has been going on for three years and this is the first sign of a crack in HIAL’s intransigence.

However, seasoned observers noted that the statement from Inglis Lyon, managing director of HIAL, continued to refer to the “ATMS project” which implied the centralisation agenda has not yet been abandoned.

David Avery, negotiation officer for Prospect union, said: “We had a constructive meeting with HIAL and have agreed to further talks to find a mutually agreeable solution to modernising air traffic control services in the Highlands and Islands”.

Last week, the Gazette revealed the cost of what many regard as a “vanity project” had doubled by last year to £48 million with costs continuing to escalate. The Gazette had also revealed an internal Scottish Government assessment which. found the project to be in the “red/amber” category, one step away from “undeliverable”.

Labour MSP and long-term supporter of the island controllers, Rhoda Grant, said: “It is early days so we need to wait and see if this is lip service or concerns are genuinely being listened to, but given the previous reluctance from HIAL to even discuss the matter I am hopeful this is a step in the right direction and proper consultation with employees and affected communities can begin.”

Last week, a letter signed by MPs and MSPs of all parties in the Highlands and Islands – including SNP ones who are not Ministers – as well as council leaders called on HIAL to negotiate and challenged the centralisation plans. This increased HIAL’s political isolation from everyone other than Scottish Government ministers.

Uisdean Robertson, chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transportation committee, said: “Finally, HIAL seem to have agreed to at least the possibility that it is worthwhile looking at alternatives. That is to be welcomed and hopefully further progress can be made which will prevent the loss of island jobs and the consequent economic impacts on our communities.”

Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess said:

“Communication about the modernising of the air traffic control services has been dreadful on HIAL’s part and I look forward to hearing what constructive progress comes out of these talks”

Western Isles MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil, said: “For the first time in a very long time, it is good to see some positive news emerging over the issue of the ATMS project and the retention of island jobs. We can only hope that this ultimately means the Government gets to save £2 million each and every year and that jobs remain within Scotland’s island

groups; vital, important and well paid jobs.”

At Holyrood last week, Highlands and Islands Tory MSP, Donald Cameron,

challenged Nicola Sturgeon on how she could justify centralisation “given her Government’s stated intention to encourage people to move to our islands and reverse depopulation?”.

Ms Sturgeon replied:” Of course we want to see the repopulation of our islands, but we must also ensure that there are sustainable services that support the connectivity of our islands”.