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Unhappy airport firefighters set to threaten school holiday travel plans 

Holidaymakers in several Australian states could face travel chaos at the start of the school holidays with airport firefighters set to strike on 15 April. The work stoppage is planned to run for four hours from 6am and will impact 27 airports across the country. 

Holidaymakers in several Australian states could face travel chaos at the start of the school holidays with airport firefighters set to strike on 15 April. The work stoppage is planned to run for four hours from 6am and will impact 27 airports across the country. 

It will coincide with the start of New South Wales, ACT, South Australian and Tasmanian holidays, but comes as school terms in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory resume. 

Why is it happening?

The United Firefighters Union Australia (UFUA) claims there’s a shortage of aviation firefighters, which could endanger air passengers. 

Leaked documents from employer Airservices Australia reportedly show “extreme risk” at 13 airports – including major hubs Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, and “high risk” at 14 others – including the country’s busiest airport Sydney, along with Canberra, Coolangatta and Hobart. 

An Airservices Australia firefighting vehicle.
An Airservices Australia firefighting vehicle.

Speaking to ABC Radio, UFUA aviation branch secretary, Wes Garrett said the “safety of air travellers that they have sworn to protect and the safety of their fellow crew members” was the “primary concern” of firefighters. 

“These leaked documents confirm that Australia’s air travellers face a dire risk every time they set foot on an aircraft in Australia, should an incident occur,” he stated.

“At 13 major airports across Australia, including Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, the leaked documents confirm that air travellers face extreme risk.”

Garrett said Airservices’ task resource analysis (TRA) – which determines what is required to protect passengers during emergencies at Australian airports – shows current staffing is “well below what they should be”.

A plane taking off from Melbourne Airport
A plane taking off from Melbourne Airport.

“Disgracefully, Airservices have known about the dire risk to air travellers should an incident occur since 2022 and have refused to release the documents to the Union or the public,” he added.

“These resource shortages include a lack of key personnel to operate breathing apparatus, shortages of firefighting agents to suppress multiple incidents, insufficient personnel and vehicles to protect both sides of a crashed aircraft, a lack of personnel for effective fire ground command and control, and a lack of procedural control at Australia’s airports.”

As well as more staff, the union wants a 20 per cent pay rise for members over three years, but Airservices has only offered 11.2 per cent, the ABC reported.

While the work stoppage “coincidentally” falls during school holidays for some states, Garrett said the timing of the strike should “inspire Airservices to get in and settle the deal as soon as possible so that there aren’t any stoppages and there’s no inconvenience to the public”.

Meanwhile, the regulator says staffing is sufficient at Australian airports and that UFUA is more motivated by its demands for more money. In a statement, it says the union’s demands could cost the aviation industry and passengers an additional $128 million.

“The risk assessments included in the TRA process are based on theoretical scenarios that do not account for the likelihood of an event occurring or reflect the current operational environment,” an Airservices statement says.

“Airservices has sufficient ARFF personnel to meet our regulatory obligations and is investing $1 billion over the next 10 years in equipment and facilities for our Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) crews.”

Airservices Australia plans to work with airlines and airports to ensure safety and minimise disruptions during the planned strike.

Brisbane International Airport.
Brisbane International Airport.

Airports with “extreme” fire and rescue response readiness risk under TRAs:

  • Brisbane
  • Melbourne
  • Perth
  • Adelaide
  • Avalon
  • Cairns
  • Darwin
  • Hamilton Island
  • Alice Springs
  • Mackay
  • Ayers Rock
  • Ballina
  • Gladstone

Airports with “high” fire and emergency response readiness risk under TRAs:

  • Sydney
  • Canberra
  • Coolangatta
  • Hobart
  • Launceston
  • Sunshine Coast
  • Townsville
  • Broome
  • Coffs Harbour
  • Karratha
  • Newman
  • Port Headland
  • Rockhampton
  • Whitsunday Coast

While holidaying during peak periods comes with its challenges, Easter travel needn’t all be bad news for the family budget. Read our Easter and school holidays travel wrap.