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Airport firefighting proposals putting safety at risk, union says

written by Jake Nelson | July 26, 2023

Image: United Firefighters Union

The firefighters’ union has said CASA-proposed changes to the way aviation incidents at airports are handled would put safety at risk.

The United Firefighters Union also said the “zombie” reforms, which arose from a CASA review under the former Coalition government, would see fewer aviation firefighters protecting air travellers and add delays to response times.

The review makes a number of recommendations, including that airport-based firefighters should only respond to aviation-related incidents, with other issues dealt with by regular state and territory brigades.

However, the UFU said it believed the ambiguity of what is considered “aviation-related” would lead to future problems.

“If implemented, these ‘zombie proposals’ in the CASA review would see fewer aviation firefighters protecting air travellers, would undermine air traveller safety and see the cost and responsibility of responding to non-aviation emergency incidents in airport precincts, known as ‘domestic response’ passed to State and Territory emergency services,” said the secretary of the United Firefighters Union – Aviation Branch, Wes Garrett.


Another measure would remove requirements for rural airports with international services to have aviation firefighters.

“The reality is that, particularly in regional airport locations, State and Territory fire and rescue services are not based at airports. As a result, they will be unable to respond as quickly as aviation firefighters located within airport precincts,” said Garrett.

“In an emergency situation where minutes can mean the difference between life and death, CASA’s proposal to transfer the responsibility for domestic response to State and Territory fire and rescue services significantly increases the risk to airport staff and travellers and could cost lives.”

The union has called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Transport and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King to intervene.

“If these ‘zombie proposals’ are implemented, air traveller safety will be at risk. Australia’s ability to comply with the international safety regulation it must adhere to will be compromised,” said Garrett.

“We urgently call on the Prime Minister to intervene to ensure that the ‘zombie proposals’ contained in the CASA review are junked and cannot put the lives of air travellers at risk or shift costs to hard-pressed State and Territory emergency services.”

In a statement, a CASA spokesperson said the organisation is currently consulting on the proposed changes, and invited concerned parties to contribute to the process.

“We are currently consulting on a range of potential changes to the rules for aviation rescue and firefighting. The changes aim to better align Australia with international standards and practices. This is a genuine consultation and we encourage aviation firefighters and members of the aviation community to have their say,” the spokesperson said.

“We have worked closely with an industry technical working group (TWG) on the draft policy. The TWG contains industry and union representatives. Consultation is an important part of our regulatory rule-making process.”

The office of Minister King has been contacted for comment.

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