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Gold Coast Airport faces a critical shortage of aviation firefighting resources

written by Newsdesk | March 4, 2024


A recent report has highlighted a significant safety concern at Gold Coast Airport, where international flights have been operating with inadequate aviation firefighting protection in violation of international aviation safety regulations. This ongoing issue is primarily due to a shortfall of aviation firefighters, posing a substantial risk to air travellers’ safety.

From December 2023 to February 2024, 15 Air Asia flights at Gold Coast Airport operated without the requisite number of firefighters present on the ground, according to Wes Garrett, Secretary of the United Firefighters Union – Aviation Branch. Garrett stated that this situation is a “major breach of international aviation safety regulations” that significantly endangers air travellers.

Garrett explained, “International flights at the Gold Coast airport are taking off and landing with inadequate protection from understaffed aviation firefighters, in breach of international aviation safety regulations.” He further outlined the scientifically based standards for aviation firefighting resources, which specify the required number of firefighters and trucks needed for different aircraft sizes to ensure passenger safety.

The concerns primarily involve Airservices Australia, the Federal Government agency tasked with providing aviation firefighting protection, which has been unable to meet the necessary protection category for international flights, specifically those conducted by Air Asia using Airbus 330-300 aircraft.

Garrett highlighted that while 13 of the scrutinised flights had the full complement of fire vehicles available, they were all understaffed, with only 6 firefighters on duty instead of the minimum requirement of 10. This staffing shortfall, he mentioned, significantly compromises the firefighters’ ability to respond effectively to an aircraft fire or to rescue passengers from a burning aircraft, potentially resulting in a considerable loss of life.

The current shortage dates back to the pandemic era when Airservices Australia cut 100 aviation firefighters from Australia’s airports in October 2021 to reduce costs. Garrett criticized this decision, pointing out that it was made “against our advice and concerns” and has left the airport ill-prepared to meet the resurgent demand for flights as Australia emerged from the pandemic.


Although the Minister for Transport has issued directives to Airservices to remedy the situation, Garrett asserts that compliance has been lacking. The union has taken the step of formally notifying the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of the situation, urging the regulator to take action against what Garrett terms a “severe breach of international aviation law and public safety.”

Garrett emphasised the necessity for Airservices Australia to comply with the Minister of Transport’s directives and adhere to international and domestic aviation laws. He called on the agency to recruit additional aviation firefighters and to provide working conditions and remuneration that help retain current staff. Garrett warned that without urgent action from Airservices, union members are “fully prepared to undertake industrial action in response.”

This situation underscores the critical need for adequate aviation firefighting resources to ensure the safety of international air travel, particularly at busier airports such as Gold Coast Airport, where the risk is currently deemed unacceptably high.


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