The provision of ARFFS in Australia is governed by a number of international standards and local regulatory frameworks. This chapter outlines these standards and frameworks.
Within these frameworks the particulars of ARFF service delivery are detailed, including safety standards; establishment (and disestablishment) thresholds for the founding of an ARFF service at an airport; the determination of airport categories; and the allocation of firefighting staff to each airport.
This chapter considers these various elements and how ARFFS is provided in Australia.
International obligations and standards
The Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944, known as the Chicago Convention, established airspace rules, including in relation to safety, and the air travel rights of those states which are signatories to the Convention. The Convention also established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which—among other things—works with member states to reach consensus on international civil aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), and other policies supporting safety in civil aviation.
Australia, as a signatory to the Chicago Convention, generally adopts the ICAO SARPs, including those in relation to ARFF services which are formalised in Chapter 9 of Annex 14 to the Convention.
Chapter 9 of Annex 14 contains an introductory note, detailing the primary objectives of ARFF services as:
…to save lives in the event of an aircraft accident or incident occurring at, or in the immediate vicinity of, an aerodrome. The rescue and fire fighting service is provided to create and maintain survivable conditions, to provide egress routes for occupants and to initiate the rescue of those occupants unable to make their escape without direct aid. The rescue may require the use of equipment and personnel other than those assessed primarily for rescue and fire fighting purposes.
The most important factors being an effective rescue in a survivable aircraft accident are: the training received, the effectiveness of the equipment and the speed with which personnel and equipment designated for rescue and fire fighting purposes can be put into use.
DIRDC explained that the ARFFS SARPs require that rescue and firefighting equipment and services be provided at all international aerodromes. Further, the SARPs include:
the level of protection required;
the provision of extinguishing agents, rescue equipment and personnel; and
a response time to the emergency not exceeding three minutes.
The ICAO SARPs also detail the level of resourcing required for an ARFF service. ICAO recommends the use of a Task Resource Analysis (TRA) to determine the resourcing needs for an ARFFS. The TRA should 'establish justification as to the minimum number of qualified/competent personnel required to deliver' an effective ARFF service. ICAO goes on to state that:
A task analysis should primarily consist of a qualitative analysis of the RFFS response to a realistic, worst-case, aircraft accident scenario. The purpose should be to review the current and future staffing levels of the RFFS deployed at the aerodrome. The qualitative analysis could be supported by a quantitative risk assessment to estimate the reduction in risk. This risk assessment could be related to the reduction in risk to passengers and aircrew from deploying additional personnel. One of the most important elements is to assess the impact of any critical tasks or pinch points identified by the qualitative analysis.
According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the ICAO resourcing model, applied at each ARFFS location:
…focusses on a balance between available resources and the risks associated with an aircraft accident rather than exclusively on the availability of certain resources.
The ICAO framework also provides guidance on the implementation of Annex 14. Each member state's civil aviation authority is then responsible for publishing regulations which correspond with Annex 14 (in Australia, the CASRs), along with guidance for service providers (in Australia, Airservices).
The legislation governing Airservices acknowledges that the Australian ARFFS derives from an international framework. Under section 9 of the Air Services Act 1995, Airservices must:
…perform its functions in a manner that is consistent with Australia's obligations under:
the Chicago Convention; and
any other agreement between Australia and any other country or countries relating to the safety of air navigation.
Lodged differences with ICAO
There was some commentary throughout the inquiry as to the binding nature of the ICAO SARPs, and the adherence of Australian ARFF services to these international standards.
While the ICAO SARPs govern the provision of ARFFS, Airservices commented that each ARFFS provider needed to consider its local operating context and regulatory framework, to ensure services met the required standards.
This view was supported by DIRDC, which observed that many countries had legislation differing from the ICAO SARPs, and had different criteria used to determine the establishment of ARFF services. DIRDC concluded that there was 'no common approach adopted overseas in the provision of ARFFS'.
The UFUA suggested that while the SARPs were published as Annexes to the Convention, they did not have the same legal binding force as the Convention itself—the Annexes were not international treaties. Further, the UFUA observed that:
…member states only agree to undertake to collaborate in securing uniformity regarding the SARPs. That agreement does not necessarily extend to complying with them. This is confirmed in Article 38, where each member state may notify ICAO of any differences between SARPs and its own practices.
To this end, in circumstances where Australia does not adopt ICAO standards, it formally lodges a difference with ICAO. DIRDC advised that ICAO standards were not adopted in Australia if they were not considered suitable for local circumstances.
DIRDC pointed out that while the CASR broadly aligns with ICAO SARPs, there are some differences to ARFFS delivery in Australia, notably that ARFFS is not provided at all international aerodromes:
In this regard, Australia has lodged a difference with ICAO stating that ARFFS, in compliance with Annex Standards, are not available at some international and alternate international aerodromes and outlines the establishment criteria adopted by Australia.
DIRDC noted that the ICAO standard requiring ARFF services at all international passenger airports is problematic in the Australian context, due to low passenger volumes and flight frequencies. These conditions are 'not conducive to providing a cost effective and permanent ARFFS capability' at such airports. DIRDC did observe, however, that some ARFF services at Australian airports exceed ICAO requirements.
Those airports in Australia which do not have ARFF services provided by Airservices receive firefighting services from the relevant state or territory fire authority.
Provision of ARFF services in Australia
The two main services provided by Airservices are air traffic control, and ARFFS. The Air Services Act 1995 stipulates that Airservices will provide a rescue and firefighting service 'with the specific functions and other associated elements of the service described in the Airservices regulations'.
The functions of ARFF services are specified in Subpart 139.H of the CASR ('Aerodrome rescue and firefighting services'), which details how a person can become approved as an ARFFS provider, and the operating and technical standards applicable to such a service. The CASRs are accompanied by an associated Manual of Standards (MOS), which commenced in 2003. The MOS is a CASA policy manual, and is a legislative instrument.
CASA has regulatory oversight of Airservices, given Airservices is an ARFFS provider. As part of the CASRs, an ARFFS provider must have an appropriate organisational structure with 'sound and effective management in relation to the provision of an ARFFS'. CASA regulates only those matters relating to safety, and does not regulate Airservices's corporate administration of the ARFFS.
DIRDC plays a lead role in the management of ARFFS regulatory policy, while working with CASA and Airservices to monitor ARFFS delivery, in order to determine whether regulatory amendments are required. The Department noted that a number of views have been expressed 'over what should be the right regulatory and policy framework for ARFFS', particularly with regard to the establishment and scope of activities of ARFF services at different aerodromes.
ARFFS establishment and disestablishment thresholds
ARFFS must be provided at aerodromes providing international flight services. Additionally, in Australia, a decision whether to establish—or disestablish—an ARFF service at an airport can be determined by the number of passengers travelling through that airport.
Until 2002, the provision of ARFFS by Airservices was to those airports which cumulatively accounted for approximately 90 per cent of all domestic passenger travellers on scheduled passenger services, over a one‑year period.
When the CASRs were introduced in 2002, there was no change made to these arrangements. DIRDC observed that at that time, the 90 per cent coverage equated to approximately 350 000 passengers per year (based on 2000–01 financial year data). Accordingly, under the CASR, '350 000 passengers per year was adopted as the trigger for requiring the establishment of an ARFFS'. Based on 2017–18 passenger movements, DIRDC suggested that the threshold now captured 96 per cent of passengers.
Conversely, passenger numbers can also be used to disestablish an ARFF service. Should passenger numbers for an airport fall below 300 000, and remain below this level for a 12‑month period, the ARFFS provider must provide CASA with a safety case to justify the closure of the ARFFS. DIRDC advised that, to date, no ARFF services had been disestablished due to passenger numbers falling below the threshold.
Mr Rob Walker, Executive Manager of Stakeholder Engagement at CASA, observed that the disestablishment of an ARFF service 'would be contentious, particularly for the communities that are involved'. The matter was further complicated by the 'ebb and flow of the local Australian aviation industry' (for example, fluctuating tourist numbers or the varying schedules of fly-in fly-out workers).
Mr Walker further noted that while the ARFFS in Australia covered the majority of passenger movements at airports, some passengers travelled through airports which do not have ARFF services. Mr Walker noted that the establishment of an ARFF service was:
…very much a balancing act between making sure that an appropriate level of services is provided but that it's also done in a cost‑effective way.
Once an ARFF service has been established, each aerodrome is placed into a category, determined by the type of aircraft which operates at the airport. An airport category determines the standard of ARFF services required at that aerodrome.
As noted by the UFUA, categories enable ARFF services and equipment to be assigned appropriately to each aerodrome, as determined by either the length or maximum fuselage width of the largest aircraft using the airport, whichever is greater. The UFUA remarked that wider aircraft may carry more fuel and passengers than narrower aircraft, and therefore require a higher category rating to best respond to emergencies.
ICAO, via Annex 14, stipulates the criteria for determining ARFF categories. DIRDC advised that in an Australian context, aerodrome categories are determined against the ICAO criteria based on the busiest consecutive three‑month period of the previous twelve months, and identifying the largest aircraft over 700 movements. Examples of the types of aircraft for each category include:
Category 6 – Airbus A320, Embraer 190
Category 7 – Boeing 737-900ER
Category 9 – Boeing 747-400, Airbus A350-900
Category 10 – Boeing 747-8, Airbus A380.
DIRDC further noted that, in accordance with ICAO standards, the category at an aerodrome could be reduced, or dropped during:
…periods of reduced activity (for example night operations), to no less than that needed for the highest category of aircraft planned to use the aerodrome during that time.
The CASRs stipulate the minimum number of fire vehicles and the quantity of extinguishing agent (water and dry chemical powder) to be carried against each aerodrome category. Additionally, the minimum number of staff per shift is developed by Airservices and approved by CASA, for each category level.
In addition, the United Firefighters Union of Australia Aviation Branch (UFUAB) noted that ICAO provides for a 'remission factor', which is an allowance for an ARFFS provider to knowingly operate at a category below the largest aircrafts using that airport. The remission factor is based on the reasoning that:
…if the airport does not meet a minimum of 700 movements of that largest aircraft in the 3 busiest months of operation then it can reduce category based on the reduced exposure risks.
DIRDC advised that, in line with Annex 14 of the Chicago Convention, the standard of ARFFS required at Australian aerodromes—and the associated airport categories—have been adopted in Subpart 139.H of the CASR, and the associated MOS.
Categories at the 26 Australian airports which provide ARFF services range from Category 6 to Category 10, as determined by CASA and ICAO regulations. During the curfew period at Adelaide Airport, that airport is classified as Category 5. Categories determine the amount of water and foam that is needed to be carried, the response times, water discharge rates and number of personnel. Some of these determinations are summarised below in Table 2.1.
Table 2.1: ARFFS airport categories and level of service
Discharge rate (foam/litres per min)
Dry Chemical Powder (kgs)
The UFUA advised that the required quantities of extinguishing agent must be available for discharge from operational fire vehicles within a response time of two minutes to the end of each runway, or not exceeding three minutes to any part of the movement area.
In addition to determining the level of service required, the airport categories also determine the minimum requirements with regard to staff and fire vehicles per shift. The minimum number of staff per shift is developed by Airservices, and approved by CASA, against each category. Table 2.2 below details the staff per shift, and the fire vehicles required per category.
Table 2.2: Minimum staffing requirements by airport category
Staff per shift
Typical aircraft type
Source: Airservices Australia, Submission 11, p. 4.
The UFUA clarified that the minimum number of ARFF personnel required to effectively and safely respond to an incident at an airport depends on the size of the aircraft utilising the airport. However, ICAO does not specifically mandate the number of firefighters required, 'other than what is implied with the number of vehicles' and the ability to operate those firefighting vehicles at maximum capacity.
Airservices advised that while the CASA‑approved number of firefighters for a Category 10 airport was 14, at Sydney and Melbourne Airports, Airservices chose to provide 'three supplementary people to help us maintain categories'. These two airports were therefore staffed with 17 ARFFS crew members.
Civil Aviation Safety Regulations
CASA was tasked with developing the CASRs, under the Civil Aviation Act 1988, to ensure compliance with the ICAO SARPs. CASR Subpart 139.H outlines the functions of the ARFFS. An introductory paragraph to Subpart 139.H outlines the purpose of the subpart for the provision of ARFFS in Australia:
As a signatory to the Chicago Convention, Australia is obliged to require, as part of its domestic law, that certain classes of airport provide rescue and firefighting services of an adequate standard. (See generally section 9.2 of chapter 9 of Annex 14 to the Chicago Convention.) To satisfy that obligation, this Subpart requires operators of aerodromes that have scheduled international traffic, or specified levels of domestic passenger traffic, to provide those services, and sets out the standards that apply to such services.
Specifically, Regulation 139.710 of Subpart 139.H of the CASR states that:
The functions of an ARFFS for an aerodrome are:
to rescue persons and property from an aircraft that has crashed or caught fire during landing or take-off; and
to control and extinguish, and to protect persons and property threatened by, a fire on the aerodrome, whether or not in an aircraft.
Nothing in subregulation (1) prevents the ARFFS provider for an aerodrome from performing fire control services or rescue services elsewhere than on an aerodrome, but the provider must give priority to operations mentioned in subregulation (1).
Airservices advised that the CASRs and the MOS operate so that ARFFS must be provided at aerodromes:
from or to which an international passenger air service operates; and
any other aerodrome where the number of passenger movements has reached 350 000 in the previous financial year.
DIRDC noted that at some locations, CASA has granted exemptions from certain operational requirements that would normal apply due to the ICAO SARPs.
Airservices, the CASRs and the MOS
Airservices advised that Subpart 139.H of the CASR, and the MOS reflect ICAO standards, but that the ARFFS also complies with other relevant legislation such as the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (and supporting regulations), and the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012.
Airservices noted, however, that it could set its own standards over and above the CASR requirements, if considered necessary for service provision or 'the safety of our people'.
DIRDC explained that the MOS provided detailed requirements for the provision of ARFFS, including:
ARFFS vehicle performance;
competency level of firefighting staff;
staffing and training requirements; and
ARFFS qualification training establishments.
The CASRs and the MOS also require airport operators to prepare aerodrome emergency plans, detailing the activation, control and coordination of emergency service organisations for airport emergencies.
Importantly, under Regulation 139.760 of the CASR, if there are inconsistencies between a requirement of the MOS and a particular aerodrome, and a requirement of Chapter 9 of Annex 14 of the Chicago Convention, 'the requirement of the Manual prevails to the extent of the inconsistency'.
This position is reiterated in the MOS itself, which, at section 188.8.131.52, notes that the MOS prevails where there are any discrepancies between it and the prescribed standards in the ICAO SARPs.
Further, the CASR, at Subpart 11.F, provides that CASA can, by instrument, grant an exemption from compliance with a provision of the CASR, and may impose any condition on that exemption which is 'necessary in the interests of the safety of air navigation'. CASA can grant an exemption either on application, or on its own initiative; granted exemptions are then published on CASA's website.
In addition to the CASR and MOS, Airservices has also developed a safety management system (SMS). The SMS provides a framework for managing safety in accordance with legislation, regulations and standards, such as the CASRs, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation Standard of Excellence in SMS. Airservices advised that it monitored its performance against the regulatory safety standards, and engaged with CASA to consider the effectiveness of the regulations.
Airservices manages risk in the provision of ARFF services through its Risk Management Standard. Airservices suggested that the purpose of ARFFS risk management was to 'actively identify, assess, control and manage hazards', to ensure that risk was managed to a level that was as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP).
Under the CASR, Airservices is also required to document in an Operations Manual (OM) how it complies with the mandatory safety standards of the CASRs and the MOS. The OM, approved by CASA, 'comprehensively describes the key elements' of ARFFS service delivery. Airservices detailed those key elements of the OM, which included:
the level of service (Category) provided, number of operating personnel, the performance of fire fighting vehicles (including response times), equipment and fire fighting agent, training and qualifications frameworks and programs, required buildings and facilities, protective clothing and equipment, operational doctrine including standard operating procedures and contingency plans, the requirements to maintain service including the process to advise industry should the level of service be temporarily reduced (such as when ARFFS is responding to an emergency), the interface arrangements with other fire fighting services, safety management systems (SMS) and quality control systems.
Safety standards for ARFFS
CASA's regulatory responsibilities for ARFFS includes the initial approval of the ARFFS at a location (certification), and undertaking surveillance of the provision of ARFFS at each location. The frequency of CASA’s surveillance is based on the category of ARFFS.
CASA informed the committee that the safety standards in the legislation governing the provision of ARFFS were based on, or informed by, a number of factors, including:
…internationally recognised standards and recommended practices (SARPs) specified by the International Civil Aviation Organization, published Australian Standards and the United States' National Fire Protection Association standards.
CASA advised that it undertakes a number of activities to determine whether the legislation governing the provision of ARFFS requires amendment. CASA uses planned surveillance events and audits, as well as post implementation reviews of regulations, to identify any deficiencies in current practices which could be addressed by legislative change. For example, CASA advised that as part of a post implementation review of Subpart 139.H, it was reviewing the ARFFS standards as they applied in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
Airservices reported that since 1 January 2016, CASA has conducted 102 surveillance events of ARFFS facilities and operations. CASA surveillance included audits, operational checks involving system testing and examination, product sampling, and the gathering of evidence, data, information and intelligence.
CASA advised that it takes a risk-based approach to the assessment of ARFFS operations. In doing so, these assessments:
…focus on the effectiveness of an authorisation holder's management of its systems and risks and enable targeted surveillance of high‑risk areas of an authorisations holder's systems. It also provides a basis on which CASA can evaluate all the regulated activities conducted by an authorisation holder to help ensure they are as safe as reasonably practicable.
In undertaking its oversight functions, CASA informed the committee that it considers the views and concerns of DIRDC, ARFFS providers and 'other industry and community stakeholders in the consideration of relevant regulatory matters'. Further, in developing ARFFS standards, CASA noted that it consults and engages with all relevant stakeholders.
In the event that Airservices makes changes to its provision of ARFFS, CASA assesses such changes through a review and approval of safety case information, 'having regard to the provider's standard operating procedures'. CASA also utilises independent reviews which consider changes to Airservices's procedures and practices, where available.
National Fire Protection Association
Considerable evidence was received during the inquiry from firefighting unions regarding the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which the unions and other stakeholders view as an industry leader in developing firefighting standards.
The NFPA, a global non‑profit organisation, aims to 'eliminate death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire' and other related hazards, through more than 300 consensus codes and standards aimed at minimising the risks and effects of fire. The UFUA observed that the NFPA's codes and standards are 'generally recognised as a major source of firefighting best practice by industry professionals'.
The NFPA 403 standard, titled 'Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Fire-fighting Services at Airports', contains standards for the operation of the ARFFS, including the minimum number of vehicles and personnel required by airport category.
Funding of ARFF services
Airservices noted that the cost of providing ARFFS is determined by the category of service, and an airport's hours of operation. ARFFS charges depended on the category of the aircraft, with more firefighters, vehicles and infrastructure required for higher-category aircraft. Airservices advised that charges were applied in accordance with the following:
for aircraft up to Category 6: a single network charge applying at all locations where and when an ARFFS is provided; and
for aircraft at Category 7 and above: a location‑specific, category‑based charge, 'recognising the incremental increase in costs associated with each higher category of service'.
In line with international practice, the costs of providing the ARFFS are recovered through a landing charge, paid by airlines, based on the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of an aircraft. Airservices observed that prices therefore vary by airport, based on the category of the aircraft flown.
Airservices went on to state that for a Category 6 aerodrome, it costs approximately $4.5 million per annum to provide base level ARFF services, with the annual cost rising to $19 million for Category 10 ARFFS. Given that some regional locations recover less than 10 per cent of the costs of ARFFS, the costs at these locations were cross‑subsidised by capital city airports with higher levels of traffic and larger aircraft.
DIRDC confirmed that the charges imposed by Airservices for the provision of ARFF services is subject to regulatory oversight by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, with current charges forecast to remain at 2016 levels 'for the foreseeable future'.
It was suggested by the UFUA that the current ARFF funding arrangement had prompted resistance to the establishment of ARFF services by airline companies, thus limiting the expansion of ARFFS to more airports due to cost, over considerations of safety. As an alternative funding model, the UFUA proposed the introduction of a passenger charge, imposed on all air passengers, to fund and expand ARFF services 'in circumstances where there is insufficient funding from other sources'. The UFUAB suggested that this approach better recognised passengers as 'the real customer of ARFFS'.