Summer flights across the Highlands and Islands face being grounded after air traffic controllers yesterday voted to implement strike action.
A ballot was held for members of the Prospect union, with 88% of the 42 voters wishing to implement industrial action across the seven Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) operated control towers.
Last year, Prospect members rejected a 2% pay rise offered to breach the gap in pay which the unions says HIAL air traffic controllers face against other airport operators across the UK.
They instead insisted on a 10% rise to level the board.
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David Avery, the Prospect negotiations officer, said: “There is an international shortage of air traffic controllers.
“HIAL rates of pay have fallen significantly behind the other air traffic providers in the UK and this is now having an impact on operations. Members want HIAL to address this issue now before they fall even further behind. ”
Despite the threat of industrial action, Prospect confirmed measures are in place to ensure emergency flights are still in operation to ensure services such as the air ambulance or Coastguard search and rescue helicopter remain able to take off.
HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon, said: “We are disappointed Air Traffic Control colleagues have chosen to take industrial action that is likely to have a significant impact on passengers and the communities we serve in the Highlands and Islands.
“As a government-sponsored agency, HIAL must follow the Scottish Government pay policy. We cannot implement pay awards more than that directed by government.
“We are open to holding further talks with Prospect on a recruitment and retention allowance for Air Traffic Control staff that would further bolster an attractive remuneration package that already includes excellent pension benefits and holiday entitlements.”
The affected airports include Inverness, Dundee, Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Benbecula and Wick.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is disappointing to see the union voting in favour of strike action, which will clearly impact passengers. We encourage both parties to continue dialogue in an effort to reach an agreement.”
Highlands and Islands regional MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This is a very concerning development which directly affects lifeline services.
“We have to remember that Air Traffic Controllers carry out highly skilled jobs and that should be reflected in their pay award. It is important that all efforts be made by both sides to avert strike action.”
Fellow regional MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston called for dialogue to take place, adding: “It is vital that this dispute is resolved before these airports are left with no alternative but to shut down, with passengers across the Highlands and Islands suffering.”