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Changes could downgrade Wick airport, say union


By Gordon Calder

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THE airport at Wick could be downgraded if air traffic control operations in the Highlands and Islands are centralised in Inverness.

That is the claim made by the Prospect union which said staff are "overwhelmingly opposed" to the changes. It also says 50 jobs could go in the area although that is strongly refuted by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) which stresses it has a no compulsory redundancy policy.

Prospect conducted a survey of Hial air traffic controllers following a similar exercise in 2018 and found little backing for the project.

The union said its members would support industrial action although it has not balloted for a strike.

Staff back the modernisation of air traffic control infrastructure but at each airport rather than centralised in Inverness. That would protect highly skilled jobs in rural communities and be cheaper and easier to deliver than Hial’s centralised plan, they claim.

Prospect also maintains the proposal would downgrade the airports at Wick and Benbecula and reduce the level of safety.

Air traffic controllers said they would not relocate to Inverness and as a result nearly 50 jobs would be lost leaving Hial to recruit new staff at "a very significant expense to the taxpayer."

David Avery. Prospect negotiations officer, said: "Our members in Hial are absolutely committed to protecting and serving their local communities. That is why they are opposing this deeply damaging project which will reduce services at two airports, take £2.2 million of direct employment out of local economies and put nearly 50 staff out of a job."

He said the union "never undertakes industrial action lightly" and is keen to minimise any impact on local communities during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hial managing director, Inglis Lyon, is "very disappointed" about the possibilty of strike action. "It would be disruptive for our communities, businesses, travellers and airlines at any time, but is even more so during the current pandemic and at a time when the aviation industry is severely impacted by the effects of the virus.

"We categorically refute Prospect’s claims of 50 staff redundancies."

Mr Lyon said the company wants to avoid industrial action and will "explore all options" to try and resolve the problem.

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