A UNION has said that a long-running dispute with a state-controlled airport firm over plans to centralise air traffic control operations is over after the proposal was shelved.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) had been pushing ahead with plans to relocate air traffic work to one "remote site" in Inverness despite fears from the union Prospect that public safety was at risk.

Proposals for a single remote tower centre - said to be a UK first -were first mooted four years ago as part of HIAL plans to "future-proof" its operations with an estimated £28 million investment over the next ten to 15 years.

The union also raised concerns that it would put almost 59 jobs at risk. HIAL has said the plan no longer formed part of its proposed modernisation of air traffic control.

A separate plan to downgrade air traffic services for Benbecula and Wick John O'Groats airports is also to be reviewed.

HIAL will now have to prepare a new business case to present to Transport Scotland for approval.

Prospect said the new plan would modernise air traffic services but protect jobs Under HIAL's original plan, air traffic control for Inverness, Sumburgh in Shetland, Dundee, Kirkwall in Orkney, and Stornoway in the Western Isles would be controlled centrally.

Unmanned towers would feed information to a hub in Inverness.

It was claimed that would involve the removal of seven existing towers at Inverness, Dundee, Shetland, Orkney, Wick, Benbecula and Stornoway.

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Analysis from Prospect, which represents air traffic control staff at HIAL airports, suggested that moving air traffic control to Inverness would remove skilled jobs and around £1.5m of direct employment from rural and island economies and would "run contrary" to the recently published Islands Plan produced by the Scottish Government which owns HIAL.

Now following discussions with Prospect, HIAL has proposed controlling traffic on radar centrally, but with local air traffic control remaining in place to have visual contact with aircraft.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “This is an important result not only for Prospect members but also for the communities they serve. I want to congratulate them and everyone else involved – this shows what we can achieve when we combine the power of unions with the voice of local communities.”

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, added: “This decision is an important one for Prospect members and hopefully brings to an end our long-running dispute with HIAL over remote towers. We welcome HIAL’s commitment to modernising air traffic control services in a way that works for staff, communities and the business.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped us to reach this outcome. It would not have happened without the dedicated campaigning of Prospect members, and without the widespread support of communities and politicians across the affected areas.

“We look forward to working with HIAL to bring through these modernisations.”

HIAL chairman Lorna Jack said they had listened to staff and island communities in reaching its decision.

She added: "his alternative delivery of the ATMS programme will provide enhanced safety and resilience to our operations and retain air traffic controllers on the islands.

“While this sets the future strategic direction for the programme, the board recognises that further detailed work will be required with colleagues before a comprehensive business case can be presented to Transport Scotland. This will include a review of our island impact assessment.”

Inglis Lyon, managing director of HIAL said: “We were pleased to note the encouraging feedback from Prospect on the constructive working relations that have been developed through the staff working groups.

“We look forward to continuing this positive approach with Prospect and our colleagues as we move into the next phase of detailed operational design.

“We hope the board’s decision will enable the current industrial action to be brought to a conclusion and allow us to move forward together to deliver our fundamental aim – a modern, sustainable air traffic service for the Highlands and Islands.”

Hial said its plan would "raise levels of safety and resilience".