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Flight disruption concerns raised with First Minister

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, has called on the Transport Secretary to step in and help find a resolution to the long-running industrial dispute between Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) and air traffic controllers in the region.

During First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr McArthur again highlighted the disruption, which has seen passengers attempting to get back to Orkney and Shetland — including many isles patients returning from hospital appointments in Aberdeen — left stranded.

Mr McArthur asked the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, if she understood the anger being felt by those left paying the price of the ongoing dispute.

He said: “Does she understand the anger and frustration felt by those left paying the price for the failure by HIAL and the unions to resolve this dispute and will she ask the transport minister to step in and find a resolution to this long-running and damaging dispute?”

The First Minister replied: “Yes, I do understand the frustrations when there is any disruptions caused by an industrial dispute like this. When I was in Shetland over the summer I spoke to a number of people who were concerned that the dispute hadn’t been resolved.

“I know there were then efforts to resolve it. My message both to HIAL and the unions would be to make sure they both get round the table and find a way of resolving that. The Transport Secretary and the government will obviously do everything we can to help bring about a resolution but ultimately it is for the employer and the trade unions to find a resolution and I hope that happens quickly.”

Talks are currently ongoing between the HIAL and the union representing the ATCs. Although no further strike dates are on the calendar at this time, action short of strike, such as work-to-rule, continues at a number of HIAL-run airports, including Kirkwall Airport.

Last month saw HIAL put a pay offer on the table, but this was rejected by the union.

Speaking after the exchange in Scottish Parliament, Mr McArthur said: “I first raised concerns about the impact of this dispute on our lifeline air services with the First Minister in April. Five months on and still there is no sign of a resolution.

“Meantime, passengers are continuing to suffer as a result of the disruption to flights. The effect has been wide-ranging, but I am particularly concerned about the impact on isles patients, some of whom have again been left stranded in Aberdeen this week attempting to get back home after hospital appointments.

“This cannot be allowed to go on. The Transport Secretary must now step in and ensure HIAL and the unions get back round the table and resolve this dispute as soon as possible”.

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