Cause for hope over HIAL modernisation plans?

Angus Brendan MacNeil.
Island MP Angus Brendan MacNeil.

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Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) and the Prospect union are continuing talks about a possible alternative to HIAL’s plans to modernise air traffic control.

Representatives from Prospect the union and HIAL met on Friday September 10 to discuss ways to find a mutually agreeable solution to modernising air traffic control services in the Highlands and Islands.

Neither Hial or Prospect have said what the alternative to the project is.

Prospect union is fighting HIAL’s plans to centralise its air traffic control services for all of its bases into one centre in Inverness.

A recent Highlands and Islands Jobs Summit, attended by politicians representing all five of the major parties in Scotland as well as independents, reported unanimous concern over HIAL’s proposals for relocating jobs to Inverness and agreed to continue working together to secure the best possible outcome for the Highlands and Islands.

Prospect has agreed that there will be no further days of strike while these talks are ongoing, however its members will continue to work to rule. Both HIAL and Prospect have described the talks as ‘constructive’.

With news breaking that HIAL and Prospect seem to be reaching a position of agreement, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus B MacNeil commented: ‘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.

‘It is great to see HIAL and Prospect coming together to work for the good of the area and try to find a common position. This is definitely a move in the right direction and people are now cautiously optimistic that the right outcome will happen, namely the retention of these jobs in our islands.’

Comhairle nan EIlean SIar’s chairman of transportation and infrastructure, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, also welcomed the discussions, saying: ‘The Comhairle continues to press HIAL for justification for their proposals so we are pleased talks are progressing on the centralisation of Air Traffic Control Systems. 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.’

However, Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron, who questioned Ms Sturgeon over the issue at First Minister’s Questions earlier this month, said: ‘There is great concern across our island communities at these proposals which could lead to the loss of skilled jobs in the islands.

‘While I welcome the commitment from the First Minister to try and accelerate a planned meeting between the Transport Minister and local stakeholders, it is paramount that local concerns are listened to and properly acted upon.

Not often do we see such unity across all political parties and none on such an issue, and I hope that the Scottish Government and HIAL think again, and abandon these ill thought out proposals.’