A row has erupted over a proposed cut to opening hours at Wick Airport – potentially impacting on staff.
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) claims the plans to change the shift system worked by firefighters follow changes in the timings of scheduled flights.
But the proposed later opening and earlier closing times have enraged community representatives, while the Prospect union is urging Hial to rethink the plan.
Councillor Nicola Sinclair said: “‘I was dismayed to learn recently that Wick Airport will now operate reduced opening hours.
“This move will impact on staff salaries, on organisations operating out of the airport, and on our local tourism industry.”
Hial wants to phase out the current two-shift system in a move intended to net annual savings of £88,000.
The airport currently opens between 7am and 8.30pm Mondays to Thursdays and 8.15am to 8.30pm on Fridays. While no proposal has been firmed up, one option would cut more than three hours each day.
Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday: “We are extremely concerned.
“While we understand that this has been driven in part by commercial realities due to recent schedule changes, it nonetheless represents a backward step for development of the airport and runs counter to the message that the chamber and partners are trying to make that Caithness is open for business.”
Ms Morris, who also chairs Wick John O’Groats airport consultative committee, is also concerned about the effect the move would have on staff morale.
David Avery, negotiations officer with Prospect, was in Wick yesterday to meet the firefighters and said: “Members have significant operational concerns about the change in the shift system and the cut in the opening hours of the airport.”
A Hial spokesman said: “As a result of adjustments to scheduled services by airline operators at Wick Airport there will be a change to the operating hours to meet these requirements.
“This in turn will result in a new staff roster and changes to the airport’s operating hours.”
Hial has set a deadline of April 1 to consult with staff over the change.