6 Scottish airports shut as air traffic controllers stage one-day strike

Jul 29, 2021

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Scotland’s air travel will be hit with a massive disruption Thursday as the union of air traffic controllers staged a 24-hour walkout that forced the closure of six regional airports.

The Prospect union ordered the strike as it battles with the government-run company overseeing the workers, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) over its plans to centralise a portion of air traffic control.

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The affected airports are:

  • Benbecula (BEB)
  • Dundee (DND)
  • Inverness (INV)
  • Kirkwall (KOI)
  • Stornoway (SYY)
  • Sumburgh (LSI)

Due to the worker shortage, all flights in and out of the airports — with the exception of emergency flights — were stopped as of midnight Thursday and will last for 24 hours.

The strike involves the concerns by the union that HIAL’s plan to centralise air traffic would cost nearly 50 workers their jobs. The plan would be for unmanned towers to feed information back to a hub established in Inverness.

HIAL, which operates 11 airports in total, said it seeks to staff the new hub with existing air traffic services employees and has forecast that by 2027, the workforce could grow from 76 full-time posts to 96.

But the union says the plan would force some of its members to move to keep their jobs — something many are unwilling to do.

The company insists that it must update air traffic control services to meet modern-day requirements.

“The disruption will impact our passengers, airline partners and the communities we serve at a crucial time in the recovery from the effects of the COVID pandemic,” HIAL’s managing director Inglis Lyon told the BBC.

The one-day strike marks the most significant action by the union during the conflict with HIAL thus far. It had previously banned its members from working any overtime and ordered controllers to refuse to work any extensions to their shifts unless it had to do with emergency and medically related flights or search and rescue operations.

David Avery, a negotiator for Prospect, said his members had been forced into taking the drastic step of a work stoppage.

“HIAL’s plan will remove high value skilled jobs from economies that can ill afford to lose them, having a substantial negative impact on those communities,” he said.

A study commissioned by HIAL back in March supported the concerns raised by the union. The report determined that the company’s plans to centralise air control would have “very significant negative impacts” on air travel in the Scottish Islands, along with resulting in job losses at Dundee Airport. After the results were learned, the company said it would do further research to see how the impact could be lessened.

Featured image by David Cheskin/Getty Images

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