What’s at Stake

With planes grounded and filling airports’ tarmacs, our quiet skies are also creating an unprecedented safety risk in Australia’s airports, putting $23 billion in assets at risk. 

A lack of revenue from airlines has put Airservices Australia, which provides Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS) at the country’s biggest and busiest 27 airports, under significant financial pressure. The response has been to force crews to take leave and now there are fears it will reduce the workforce.

Despite the mass grounding, each day planes must go through regular maintenance, which carries the risk of something going wrong. Sydney Airport has 90 aircraft stored, while Brisbane has 70, Avalon has 36, and Adelaide has 15. There’s an estimated $16.2 billion worth of aircraft assets at risk – if these assets go there is no aviation industry in Australia. 

While air traffic may be significantly reduced, the work of ARFFS hasn’t. Between March and June aviation fire fighters responded to 700 incidents.

Ground damage is an under-appreciated aviation safety hazard – an aircraft full of fuel at the gate is akin to a bomb in a confined space.

A report by University of Newcastle’s Centre of Full Employment and Equity found underfunded, and scaled back fire crews at Australia’s airports are creating a risk to billions of dollars of assets and vital infrastructure. 

Changes in Aviation Fire Coverage at our airports:

AirportOriginal ARFF categoryCOVID-19 categoryCategory Status
Sydney109Downgraded
Coffs Harbour65Downgraded
Melbourne109Downgraded
Cairns85-7Downgraded
Rockhampton65Downgraded
Avalon85Downgraded
Canberra87Downgraded
Adelaide95-7Downgraded
Darwin86-8Downgraded
ARFF Categories dictate the required amount of water and foam that is needed to be carried, the response times, water discharge rates and the number of personnel.

A higher number means a higher level of service.

Download a copy of the report here.

Download a copy of the report fact sheet here.