Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) and the air traffic controllers’ union Prospect have recommenced talks aimed at resolving the dispute between the airport group and air traffic control officers.

But Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant says the Scottish Government has ‘tied the hands’ of HIAL by placing pay negotiation restrictions on the employer.

HIAL air traffic controllers have been taking industrial action since April, the anniversary of an imposed 2% pay award in line with Scottish Ministerial pay policy.

The air traffic controllers union said that award represented a real terms pay cut for controllers, whose pay they said has been suppressed for more than a decade by public sector pay restraint.

Prospect research claims that HIAL has fallen more than 10% behind other employers within the sector. They already struggle to attract and retain controllers with staff shortages meaning Stornoway airport closing during the day to allow controllers to take a break.

The announcement of the remote towers centre in Inverness has also been an influencing factor for controllers looking for work elsewhere.

A proposal agreed between Prospect and HIAL over Christmas 2018, which would have resolved the dispute, was rejected by Scottish Ministers.

Mrs Grant says she has asked the cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, to lift restrictions so that HIAL could make an appropriate settlement offer with air traffic controllers. She claims Mr Matheson refused.

Mrs Grant said: "The Cabinet Secretary's decision means that the dispute between HIAL and Air Traffic Control is doomed to rumble on, creating travel misery for customers and contributing to a wretched work situation for air traffic controllers.”

Prospect and HIAL said in a joint statement last week that talks were beginning again and both parties are hopeful that progress can be made.

The picture shows Stornoway air traffic control staff as the mail plane lands (Peter Shearer).