• The United Firefighters Union wants Airfield Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS) restored to secondary airports. (Airservices Australia)
    The United Firefighters Union wants Airfield Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS) restored to secondary airports. (Airservices Australia)

The United Firefighters Union of Australia has called for Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS) to be restored to five of Australia's busiest general aviation airports.

In a submission presented to the Senate Inquiry into the GA Industry published today, the Aviation Branch of UFUA said that ARFFS should be available at Archerfield, Bankstown, Jandakot, Moorabbin and Parafield.

Although the movements at each airport is below the 350,000 trigger for ARFFS, UFUA believes the risk at these airports is high enough to justify the service.

"The United Firefighters Union of Australia Aviation Branch believes that the removal of ARFFS services from some of the busiest airports in Australia was a fatally flawed decision and we also believe that several people have paid for this decision with their lives in crashes that have occurred at these secondary airports since ARFFS was withdrawn," the union states in the submission.

"These critical secondary airports generating billions in revenue and employment are worth protecting properly as are our next generation of Australian aviators.

"We also believe that airports that meet the criteria for an ARFFS regardless of whether it is primarily a Defence base should be automatically provided by Airservices or a standalone Federal Government ARFFS National Aviation Fire Service removed from Airservices."

In justifying the demand to restore services, UFUA cites several reasons why the risk profile at the five capital city GA airports should be taken into account when assessing the need for ARFFS, including:

  • charter operations regularly use the airports, a sector which the ATSB says is up to nine time more likely to suffer crashes
  • training operations do regular circuit training, which entails the highest risk phases of flight
  • GA aircraft are of lighter construction, which increases the risk of people being trapped in the event of a crash
  • a high proportion of aircraft are flown by trainee pilots
  • GA aircraft use avgas, which is more volatile
  • the proximity of industrial parks, several of which have been built on airport land, and residential areas
  • secure airside areas can delay local emergency services when access is needed.

UFUA believes that services have not been reinstated despite fatal accidents at some of the airports because of the cost.

"Airlines and the aviation industry in Australia, unlike those in Europe and America, tend to see services like the ARFF as an unnecessary cost to their operation," the union says. "After all nothing ever crashes in Australia.

"To illustrate how this mind set has permeated the industry it is simple to note that the current regulation allows for any Australian airport to provide a service at their location for any airports with fewer than 350,000 passengers. Few airports in Australia other than some large mine sites, though, have taken advantage of this option to mitigate their risks, even those with regular large passenger jet aircraft movements."

UFUA also says consideration should be given to restoring firefighters to Camden, Norfolk Island and Cocos Islands. The union also believes that Newcastle, which has military ARFFS coverage, should have a civilian service accountable to CASA for standards.

Airservices Australia provides ARFFS to 27 airports across the country. In the year 2019-2020, the services responded to 5491 callouts, 336 of which were aircraft incidents. A further 119 were community assistance operations.

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