Despite our quiet skies, between March and June this year, aviation fire fighters responded to more than 700 incidents across Australia. A grounded plane is not idle – each day planes must go through regular maintenance. But this carries the risk of something going wrong. A further consequence of grounded planes is that across Australia’s major airports there are larger than normal fuel reserves – amplifying the potential for catastrophic damage.
Ground damage is an under-appreciated aviation safety hazard, as an aircraft full of fuel at the gate is akin to a bomb in a confined space. Approximately 38% of airline accidents that result in fatal injury occur on or near the ground.
This lethal combination of chemicals and jet fuel found at an airport mean aviation fire fighters only have two minutes to respond to fire in order to save lives and preserve property. But to do this aviation fire fighters need to maintain normal crew levels as well as be in a position to continue to operate when the pandemic is over. Right now Australia is crewing airports well below international best practice.
Beyond this immediate crisis, aviation rescue and fire fighting is core to maintaining Australia’s aviation safety standards and international reputation. When Australians can again travel freely interstate, it’s worth remembering 58% of that is done by the air. But we can’t return to the skies if we’re not ready on the ground.