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Firefighter shortage ‘critical’ at Sunshine Coast Airport, says union

written by Jake Nelson | February 6, 2024

Aviation rescue firefighters at Airservices Australia’s training facility in Melbourne. (Image: Jake Nelson)

The United Firefighters Union (UFU) says a shortage of firefighters at Sunshine Coast Airport (SCA) is “becoming critical” as traffic increases.

Three firefighting crews are currently stationed at the airport, which Wes Garrett, aviation branch secretary of the United Firefighters Union, said are insufficient with the arrival of Bonza dramatically boosting aircraft movements into and out of the Sunshine Coast.

“The shortage of aviation firefighters has meant that significant numbers of large passenger aircraft are operating without the appropriate number of aviation firefighters on the ground to provide the protection required under international and domestic aviation safety regulations,” he said.

“At night, the shortage of aviation firefighters has become increasingly worse, and a large number of aircraft the size of Boeing 737, which can carry up to 200 passengers, are being forced to land with either no firefighting service at all or with less than the minimum number of firefighters required to protect air travellers should there be a crash or other emergency incident.

“The problem at the Sunshine Coast Airport has been exacerbated by the fact that there are no facilities for aviation firefighters to rest or recline, meaning aviation firefighters working back as late as 2am to cover delayed flights on overtime are heavily fatigued.”


Aviation rescue firefighting (ARFF) services across the country are provided by Airservices Australia, the government corporation responsible for air traffic management. Garrett has called upon Airservices to step up firefighter recruitment, saying the current national shortage stems from the cutting of 100 ARFF jobs during the pandemic in October 2021.

“As Australia emerged from the pandemic and the demand for flights returned, there were not enough aviation firefighters left to protect the increasing numbers of air travellers in accordance with international and domestic aviation safety regulations,” he said.

“Aviation firefighting is highly specialised, and it takes a significant amount of time before we can train the appropriate number of new firefighters to fulfil the needs of Australia’s growing aviation sector.”

Garrett said the “only acceptable solution” for the increased aircraft movements and extended operational hours at SCA is a fourth firefighting crew.

“Airservices CEO Jason Hartfield has said that ‘safety will be placed ahead of efficiency’ when it comes to managing aircraft movements, but the opposite is taking place at the Sunshine Coast airport,” he said.

“Fatigued firefighting crews are being stretched beyond their limit at the same time as air traveller safety is once again taking a back seat. Safety has been thrown out the window, and Airservices has placed efficiency front and centre.”

According to Sunshine Coast Airport’s general manager operations, Kate McCreery-Carr, “all scheduled flights” at the airport are supported by ARFF services.

“Sunshine Coast Airport is a 24/7 airport with flights currently operating between the hours of 0530 and 2300. While Sunshine Coast Airport is supported by ARFF, on-going 24/7 support is provided by Queensland emergency services,” she said in a statement.

An Airservices spokesperson told Australian Aviation that the body meets its regulatory obligations as set out by CASA by employing 21 full-time firefighters at the airport during approved operating hours.

“Airservices provides an ARFF service during these operational hours. An airline may choose to operate outside of these published operational hours. Airlines may also choose to operate into an airport where an ARFF service is not provided,” the spokesperson said.

“Airservices regularly reviews traffic patterns, aircraft size, and frequency of movements and adjusts its service levels and hours of operation accordingly.

“Airservices continues to invest in its ARFF capability, including in its numbers of aviation rescue firefighters. Currently, Airservices employs more than 830 aviation rescue fire fighters with an additional 48 expected to join the service in 2024 to cater for the continued growth of aviation in Australia.”

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