Air traffic controllers to vote on industrial action over HIAL remote towers

24 November 2020

Prospect members in air traffic control at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) are to be balloted on industrial action over HIAL’s plans to push on with its remote towers project.

Air traffic control tower

The action, if approved by members, would take the form of action short of a strike commencing 4 January 2021, with individual one day strikes taking place after that date.

Members are voting on the action because they believe the HIAL plan to centralise air traffic functions in Inverness would have devastating effect on the communities affected reducing safety and damaging the economy. It would also effectively result in compulsory redundancies with many staff understandably reluctant to be uprooted from the communities they serve.

A recent Prospect independent report into the plan for remote towers found significant problems with it:

  • The remote towers programme will take at least £22m (£2.2m annually) of economic benefit from island economies
  • HIAL’s own scoping study identified the remote towers option as “the most difficult and risky to implement”.
  • HIAL have only published a redacted business case for the proposal. Implementation costs have already almost doubled to £33.5m with lifetime costs £70m higher than the status quo.
  • HIAL has failed to learn the lessons of an NAO report into IT procurement by the Scottish government with engagement and staff buy-in in particular well below optimal.
  • Safety and operational concerns have been raised including, the breakdown of data transmission systems, cyber-security, weather assessment, impact on human performance and managing the need for ratings for more than one tower in a single shift.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said:

“Prospect members do not want to have to take this action but HIAL’s continued refusal to look at the evidence against remote towers has left us with no option but to ballot.

“Prospect members’ primary concern is the potential impact of imposing the remote towers project on remote communities. It is our intention that any industrial action will cause as little disruption to local communities as possible and will start after the holidays so as to avoid any impact on Christmas plans.

“HIAL’s intransigence in this matter is frankly baffling however we are seeking mediation with ACAS in the hope that a way to avoid industrial action can be found.

“Should industrial action be approved there will be no impact on emergency cover.”


Prospect has members working in aviation, road, rail and maritime transportation, as well as regulation and research.