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As the countdown continues towards a complete one-day shutdown of air traffic to Stornoway and Benbecula airports next week, the Western Isles Labour Party has said that Scottish Government Ministers who are refusing to intervene in the Highlands and Islands air traffic dispute are "unfit for the offices they hold".

The party gave full backing to island air traffic controllers in the Prospect Union for fighting to retain long-established quality jobs in the Western Isles while also ensuring that safety and service reliability issues are not swept aside.
 
The Labour statement said: "The islands are yet again victims of a remote, arrogant government in Edinburgh that takes them for granted and weak representation that is ignored at Holyrood.
 
"Given all the other transport issues we face, it beggars belief that Ministers continue to refuse to talk to unions, MSPs or local community leaders in the islands which stand to lose these jobs and the security they provide.
 
"This has been going on for almost four years with no sign of resolution and there is absolutely nobody outside the Scottish Government and the inner circles of HIAL who even tries to justify what they are doing.  It is a vanity project without a friend in the world.
 
"Labour pledges full support to our air traffic controllers and calls on Scottish Government Ministers to bring this whole matter to a close by suspending the centralisation proposals and entering into meaningful discussion about a way forward, involving people who understand both aviation and islands".

And Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, is also urging Scottish ministers to “think again” and intervene in the dispute over plans to operate air traffic control services remotely from Inverness. Loganair has already cancelled all flights at the affected airports, and is offering passengers the chance to book a place on extra flights around the strike date of 29 July.

Plans to centralise air traffic services in Inverness is set to become a reality by 2023/24.  It would remove up to 17 full-time equivalent air traffic control jobs from Shetland, according to a recently carried out impact assessment study. A similar impact has been calculated for Kirkwall and Stornoway. Local communities, including island councils, have been voicing their opposition to the plans since they first emerged more than three years ago.

“I had hoped that the Scottish Government would be encouraged to take the time to listen to local communities when the proposed strike was raised but instead it has allowed it to come to this,” Lib Dem MSP Wishart said. “The inflexibility of the Scottish Government means that many islanders will be inconvenienced including travellers due to go to hospital appointments. “Ministers must stop the project and think again.”

The strike action will be effective from 00.01 on Thursday 29 July for 24 hours.  Prospect has also confirmed that the current industrial action short of a strike will remain in place before and after the day of strike action. The following airports will be closed to all but emergency flights on 29 July 2021:  Benbecula, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Sumburgh.  Prospect Union balloted ATCOs to undertake industrial action to support their call for an alternative to HIAL’s Air Traffic Management Strategy. HIAL says it is currently in discussion with Prospect on a number of different people policies to help alleviate impact on those colleagues who may be impacted by the ATMS programme, but the protestors across the region want the plan dropped in its entirety.  

The current overall industrial action which runs until 1 December 2021 under the current mandate consists of action short of a strike.  Action short of a strike comprises a number of measures, including the potential refusal for requests for an air traffic control service outside airport opening hours.