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Airport firefighters to strike on 15 April amid ‘leaked document’ row

written by Jake Nelson | April 2, 2024

Airservices employs more than 115 full-time aviation rescue firefighters. (Image: Airservices)

Aviation firefighters have confirmed they will stop work for four hours on 15 April amid a row over claims of understaffing.

However, the announcement of the industrial action was overshadowed by a row over “leaked documents” obtained by the firefighters union, which apparently showed travellers were at high risk. Airservices Australia, which oversees airport firefighting, responded by arguing the files showed no such thing and were already in the public domain.

It comes after the United Firefighters Union of Australia Aviation Branch (UFUAV) voted for industrial action last month.

According to UFUAV branch secretary Darren Rodrigo, the Task Resource Analysis (TRA) documents found an “extreme” fire and rescue response readiness risk at 13 major airports around Australia and a “high” risk at 14 more.

“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 said.


Rodrigo claimed Airservices had “kept the truth from the Australian public” about the documents, though Australian Aviation has confirmed that they were released to Senate Estimates in June of 2023 and have been publicly available since that time.

“To protect the safety of air travellers, we require a staffing clause in our enterprise bargaining agreement to ensure enough firefighters are provided at Australia’s airports to meet the TRA requirements,” said Rodrigo.

“We require proper clauses on work hours and rostering to manage the unsustainable fatigue aviation firefighters are experiencing. Finally, we require upgrades to aviation firefighting facilities to meet work health and safety regulations.

“We call on Airservices to return to the bargaining table to address these critical concerns about the safety of Australia’s air travellers.”

Airservices has consistently said it has enough firefighting staff, with 115 aviation rescue firefighters (ARFF) employed full-time around Australia and another 48 expected to join this year. The air traffic control body, which also provides ARFF services at 27 major airports, said the union is pursuing a 20 per cent pay rise.

“The dispute has nothing to do with staffing levels, which are monitored and regulated by CASA as the aviation safety regulator,” a spokesperson said.

“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 ARFF crews.”

In a statement, the spokesperson told Australian Aviation that the TRAs “do not measure current state operational risk” and are intended for use as a planning tool.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

“Airservices conducts operational risk assessments to capture and define the management of risks and manage them to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable, and the TRA documentation states that Airservices’ existing processes are both effective and appropriate for current levels of operational risk.

“There is no current regulatory requirement to adopt TRA-based guidelines and international ARFF services that have completed TRAs including Heathrow, Auckland, Glasgow, Gatwick and Manchester have minimum staffing levels similar or less than those applied by Airservices under current regulations.”

According to the spokesperson, Airservices is working to implement the recommendations in the TRAs, including increased staffing levels, upgrading its fleet of firefighting trucks, investing in new firefighting technologies and equipment improvements, and establishing contingency plans for unforeseen circumstances.

“The operating environment in which the TRAs were conducted continues to evolve significantly post-COVID as aviation recovers and as a consequence of our ongoing investment in new technology including vehicle fleet and equipment,” the spokesperson said.

“Given these changes, Airservices is conducting a revalidation of the TRA process to ensure it accurately reflects current ARFF capability and operating requirements while also applying lessons learnt from its pilot TRA implementation.

“The TRA revalidation activity will commence in Q4 2023 and conclude in Q4 2024.”

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