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AIRPORTS: Firefighters on strike for four hours Monday 15 April

AIRPORTS: Firefighters on strike for four hours Monday 15 April

It looks like over 800 firefighters will strike for four hours in a protected stop-work action from 6 am on Monday, 15 April, at 27 airports around Australia. The strike action is directed at fire services employer Airservices Australia for them to increase firefighting staff levels in line with a damning safety assessment. The report received by Airservices Australia was released after union pressure to the Senate last year.

The 2021 safety assessment indicates that 13 airports across Australia are understaffed with firefighters and would face an ‘extreme risk’ if faced with a major aircraft emergency. Airports at risk named in the report include Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. But it doesn’t stop there. A further 14 airports would be at ‘high risk’ according to the assessment and they include Sydney, Canberra and Hobart.

The United Firefighters Union, which is calling the strike and driving the release of the report, has raised safety concerns over a number of years.

a large white sign with letters on it
Melbourne Airport sign [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

Airport disruption

The presence of firefighters at airports is a statutory requirement, so their being unavailable during the strike action is most likely to render the airports inoperable, with arrivals and departures suspended at those times.

Of course, the dispute also comes down to money since the UFU is also seeking a 20% pay increase over the next three years, minimum staffing, changes to rostering to manage fatigue and upgrades to firefighting facilities to better meet health and safety requirements. Airservices Australia is claiming these changes would cost the industry and, hence, passengers an additional 128 million.

a white vehicle with a sign next to a staircase
Arriving at Brisbane Airport 2023 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

The firefighters dispute

Airservices Australia has repeatedly denied that airports are inadequately staffed with firefighters. However, the 2021 report contradicts this. It found using a TRA (that’s jargon for a Task Resource Analysis) approach, an internationally recognised way of assessing these things, in a worst-case incident involving aircraft, that many of the airports wout be at an ‘unacceptable extreme level of risk’.

The problem is that Airservices Australia has not adopted this TRA methodology. That’s despite the Civil Aviation Safety Authority backing the approach. The authority has accepted that the TRA approach should be part of a future regulatory benchmark. But its waiting for the government to endorse its future implementation.

The Union has been highly critical of Airservices Australia for attempting to hide the report’s results. What makes it a little weird is that Airservices told the Senate that it was working on implementing the TRA recommendations, which includes additional firefighters, by the end of 2024.

Qantas Terminal, Perth Airport 2023 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]
Qantas Terminal, Perth Airport 2023 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

2PAXfly Takeout

The two parties may resolve their dispute before the scheduled strike on 15 April. But If I had planned travel that Monday, I would be preparing for disruption. Even a four-hour strike will disrupt the whole day’s flying schedules both domestic and international, arrivals and departures. It will also potentially affect most of Australia’s major airports.

You have been warned! If there are further developments in the dispute before the scheduled strike, I will update this post.

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