If you live in a big city, chances are you are quite used to hearing sirens blaring close by or seeing big red trucks shoot past on a daily basis. Thankfully, airport firefighting services are rarely noticed to the same extent. However, that does not mean that when they are not blasting fire extinguishing foam out of the roof of their truck, they are simply sitting idly by.
Extensive training for unique challenges
In most countries, larger airports with scheduled passenger flights are obliged to have firefighters and firefighting equipment on the premises. Their primary purpose is to conduct emergency response, mitigation, evacuation, and rescue of passengers and crew.
An aircraft fire presents unique challenges, and aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF), as it is called in the US, require specific training. When an emergency landing takes place, to quickly be able to extinguish potential ensuing fires is paramount to giving people the best possible chance of making it safely out of the aircraft.
This is especially true if the aircraft took off not long before returning to the ground and is still carrying a more-than-optimal amount of fuel. Airport fire services go through extensive training in applying firefighting foams and chemicals, especially suitable for extinguishing burning aviation fuels.
The firefighting fleet and the ‘snozzle’
The vehicles operated by airport rescue services are usually a fleet (numbers depending on the airport’s size) of large high-volume pumping vehicles. These have the capacity to carry a huge amount of fire extinguishing foam which is applied with enormous pressure through nozzles on the vehicle’s roof.
This is commonly known as a ‘snozzle’ and is equipped with a spike capable of piercing the aircraft fuselage to deliver the foam inside. It also has an infrared camera attached. This way, the airport firefighters can fight the flames without having to set foot inside the plane. To reach the upper deck of the Airbus A380, an upgraded version of the roof-mounted contraption had to be introduced.
However, putting out aircraft fires is a sporadic occurrence for airport firefighters. Beyond the obvious immediate response calls in the case of an aircraft emergency landing, they fill several other functions crucial to airport operations.
EMS, snow removal, and runway inspection
The number one call that airport rescue services handle is for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). This is when an aircraft makes an unscheduled landing due to a medical emergency on board or if someone has been taken ill on a regularly scheduled approach.
Airport ambulance crews also typically depart from the airside fire stations, and on the site, they follow the orders of the ARFF incident commander. Many airport firefighters have also cross-trained as paramedics.
Beyond those stemming from actual aircraft, airport firefighters, not surprisingly, also deal with potential fires in the airport’s structure itself. They also deal with hazardous spills that may occur throughout operations, as well as monitor refueling. They often assist snow removal services with getting rid of snow in winter and deal with any traffic collisions on the airport’s property.
Working in overnight shifts, airport firefighter crews provide security for the premises after midnight. They also perform the first runway checks of the morning.
Wildlife and water rescue
At some airports, ARRF units are also involved in wildlife management. More specifically, they handle bird strike reports and investigations. In the US, if there is blood from a bird strike, it must be collected and sent to the Smithsonian for DNA analysis so that it may detect if a potential pattern could be emerging.
If an airport is located near a body of water, the airport firefighting crew must also operate a water rescue service. The International Airport Water Rescue Working Group, with representatives from airports such as Singapore Changi, Boston Logan, and Copenhagen Kastrup. The Copenhagen Airport Rescue and Firefighting Academy (CARFA) also specializes in water rescue training.
Meanwhile, airport firefighters also have more celebratory tasks. When a new aircraft arrives with an airline, it is often greeted with a water cannon salute. That is done by one or two firefighting vehicles lined up on either side of the aircraft, expelling plumes of water over the plane.
It can also be performed on other ceremonial occasions, such as the retirement of a senior pilot or an airline’s first or last flight to an airport. When the British Airways Concorde made its final commercial flight out of New York JFK in October 2003, it was saluted by red, white, and blue water plumes.
On particularly momentous occasions, such as the closing of Berlin’s Tegel Airport in November last year, you can see a whole row of firefighting vehicles banding together to give a proper sendoff. In the picture below, you can see the salute of an Air France flight on its way from Tegel to Paris Charles de Gaulle for the very last time.
What can’t they do?
While legislation surrounding the mandate of airport fire services differs somewhat, they are usually not allowed to respond to non-aircraft-related incidents outside the airport premises. Doing so would result in leaving the airport without fire cover.
At least in the UK, an airport without fire cover must close its runways to passenger aircraft, unless in an emergency. However, the services can respond to aircraft-related incidents off-site if they fall within a six-degree cone from the end of each runway.
Have you ever seen the airport fire service in action? What was the incident? Tell us about it in the comment section.
Canadian Hotel Worker Protest Takes Aim At Lufthansa Crew
Arriving in Vancouver on May 13th, Lufthansa crew members found themselves caught up in the middle of a labor dispute, encountering striking hotel workers outside of their stopover accommodations. The airline’s crew were specifically targetted by the unionized hotel workers, with requests not to cross their picket line at the hotel.
Caught-up in a labor dispute
A union representative told Simple Flying that Lufthansa’s unionized flight crews stay at this hotel when they fly through Vancouver International Airport. On its website, the workers union known as Unite Here Local 40 said the following when describing the plan for the May 13th event:
“While large unions and Burnaby City Council have pledged not to patronize the hotel until it reinstates its workers, Lufthansa flight crew members continue to cross the picket line by staying at Hilton Metrotown. Hotel workers are entering the 5th week of the lockout.”
Armed with protest signs in German, workers waited outside the YVR main terminal, hoping to encounter Lufthansa airline personnel. In addition to signage, leaflets were distributed, with requests not to stay at the hotel. By persuading Lufthansa to accommodate its workers at another establishment, the union and its workers are hoping to put further pressure on the hotel to restore jobs.
The Unite Here Local 40 representative told Simple Flying that the situation has since escalated, saying that a bus carrying Lufthansa flight crew across the picket line injured a protestor outside the hotel on Saturday.
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The claims against the Hilton Metrotown hotel
The Hilton Metrotown hotel, located in the city of Burnaby (adjacent to the city of Vancouver), is accused of the following:
- Locking out workers last month after firing 97 staff.
- Cutting off almost 50 of its laid-off workers’ employment insurance benefits after locking them out (according to Richmond News).
- Refusing to commit to restoring long-term workers’ jobs once business recovers.
We’re moving the #HiltonMetrotown picket line to the airport! 💥🔥 Yesterday, workers leafleted Lufthansa airline crew members as they embarked from the YVR Airport to the hotel. @Lufthansa has been crossing the picket line for weeks, it’s time they check out! #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/Xrpwizmh09
— Unite Here Local 40 #BCUnequalWomen (@UniteHere40) May 15, 2021
“I’m deeply hurt and angry that Hilton Metrotown cut off our [Employment Insurance]. I’ve only worked a few shifts, and [Employment Insurance] still wasn’t enough to make ends meet during the time I was laid off…First you fire workers, then you lock us out. Now you’re cutting off our legal government assistance.” – Kelsey Paul, Font desk agent, Hilton Metrotown
In addition to the job cuts, the hotel is accused of not having enough people to safely clean the facility, which has 283 rooms. As such, the union reported the hotel to provincial labor authorities.
Of course, in addition to airlines and airports, hotels have been hit hard by the global health crisis. With both international and interprovincial travel restrictions in place across much of Canada, the hospitality industry has been left with little choice but to lay off staff.
Simple Flying reached out to both Lufthansa Group and the Hilton Metrotown hotel looking for an official statement on the issue. At the time of publication, no response was received.
Do you think Lufthansa should accommodate its crew at a different hotel due to the dispute? Let us know in the comments.
Russian Airlines Look To Pause Most Flights To Turkey
Both S7 Airlines and Aeroflot have temporarily suspended flights to Turkey due to ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions. Currently, almost all flights have been canceled until June 1st under restrictions from the Russian government. The government may choose to extend travel restrictions beyond this date.
Reports suggest that the Russian government ban on flights to Turkey may well be extended until June 30th, although this hasn’t been confirmed officially. But airlines aren’t taking any chances. Yesterday, Aeroflot confirmed it was suspending all flights in an attempt to avoid cancellations. The airline will still operate a maximum of two flights a week to necessary travel.
Today, S7 joined Aeroflot by announcing it has canceled all flights for the rest of the summer. The airline has said the uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions has made it too difficult to keep Turkey on its schedule. A representative told Reuters that “we will be ready to resume sales as soon as the epidemiological situation stabilizes and flights resume.”
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A blow for Turkey
This decision by the two major Russian airlines is not good news for Turkey. Experts are suggesting that approximately 500,000 Russian tourists head to Turkey each summer. The airlines’ choice to cancel flights for the whole summer season will be a significant economic blow for the country.
However, the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy has confirmed that Turkey plans to open for tourists from June 1st. Yesterday, Ersoy headed to Russia with other key Turkish ministers to discuss tourism and the possibility of Russia lifting travel restrictions.
It works both ways
Although things aren’t looking great for Russian Airlines right now, Aeroflot has said it would wait until a decision from the Russian government before canceling flights for longer. If the government does lift restrictions on June 1st, both Aeroflot and S7 will likely resume operations as soon as possible.
The lifting of restrictions will also see Turkish Airlines able to resume operations to Russia. Currently, only two return flights a week are allowed under current Russian restrictions. This is the same number operated by Aeroflot.
Are travel restrictions becoming political?
The official reason for the travel restrictions, which were announced in April, is the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Turkey. However, some have argued that Russia is using travel restrictions as a political move. Russia announced the new restrictions just two days after the Turkish President met with the Ukrainian President. Russian and Ukraine have high political tension.
Concerns about political issues influencing travel restrictions have plagued bans since the beginning of the pandemic. In Europe, there were cries that the UK’s decision to leave the EU would affect travel restrictions. Australia has also been accused of unnecessarily harsh restrictions against Australian citizens returning from India. There was also talk of travel bans and restrictions being used to win political favor during the 2020 election in the US.
Many are pointing to the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now advising against international travel bans. According to a WHO report, travel bans are only effective at the beginning of an outbreak and are now too restrictive on a country’s economic response. This has led to suggestions that travel bans are now in place as political maneuvers. Political or not, Russia’s ban against Turkey will be bad for airlines if it is extended beyond June 1st.
What do you think of the travel bans still in place? Should people be following the WHO’s advice? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
airBaltic Begins Rehiring Crew But Vaccinations Are Mandatory
Latvian hybrid carrier airBaltic has begun to rehire cabin crew who were let go due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, there are a couple of catches. At this stage, only 20 members of staff are being rehired. Additionally, to be rehired by the Riga-based carrier, the former crew must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we fly. Two years ago, masks weren’t required on flights, and vaccination passports were few and far between. Much has changed as airlines, individuals, and nations look to recover from the worst global crisis in recent memory.
20 crew rehired
airBaltic has started a process to rehire 20 members of the flight crew who were let go directly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2020 financial year, the airline had said goodbye to 30% of its workforce. While the number of rehired employees may seem low, hopefully, more can rejoin as the airline’s recovery progresses, with the airline favoring previous staff over new employees.
To select which staff members are successful in regaining their jobs, the all A220-operator will look at their motivation, qualifications, and previous experiences. They will then resume work duties in two groups from June. The 20 lucky candidates will join 73 other employees already rehired, including 18 other cabin crew members.
Commenting on the rehiring, the airline’s CEO, Martin Gauss, said,
“More than a year ago we were forced to make tough decisions, including letting many of our people go. We provided them with various benefits, including a social package. Today we are proud that we are in a position to rehire. We are confident about our future, and know that soon we will return to our growth path, which will mean hundreds of new highly skilled job opportunities.”
Vaccinations are mandatory
A condition of the rehiring process is that employees will be vaccinated. It is unclear if they need to be vaccinated to apply or will be vaccinated as part of the rehiring process. All of the airline’s front-line employees are required to be vaccinated against the virus.
By the end of the month, the airline is set to have given 70% of its workforce the first dose of the vaccine. According to the latest statistics from Google, 20.6% of the Latvian population have had one dose, with 6.3% fully vaccinated.
One would imagine that the Latvian government requires vaccinations rather than airBaltic. While Delta’s CEO has made no secret that he wants his workforce vaccinated, the same cannot be said of airBaltic’s Marting Gauss. Gauss previously exclusively told Simple Flying,
“I think I have no right to order it of an employee… I would like to have a situation that I can say all of our crews are vaccinated, but we cannot order people to do that.”
What do you make of airBaltic rehiring staff it was forced to let go of? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!
Lockheed Martin opens new F-16 production line amid new demand
To support the growing demand for new F-16s from partner nations, Lockheed Martin is opening a new production line.
The Block 70/72 aircraft will be produced at the company’s facility in Greenville, South Carolina.
The line is the only production facility for F-16s in the world, opening three years after the company’s long-time F-16 line in Fort Worth, Texas, wrapped up production.
Recently, and on behalf of five foreign military partners, USAF awarded Lockheed Martin approximately $14 billion to build 128 F-16s at the facility through to 2026.
The first F-16s are expected to roll off the production line in 2022, and production is expected to increase after the first year. The aircraft will be delivered to multiple foreign military partners, including Bahrain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan, and others, many of whom have expressed interest beyond the first deliveries.
More aircraft are expected to be built in the upcoming years, and there are requests for F-16s under review from additional foreign military partners.
“This new production line is very significant,” said Brian Pearson, integrated product team lead for F-16 foreign military sales, with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, which is leading the effort to build and deliver the new F-16s. “There are 25 nations operating F-16s today, and they have a lot of expertise with the airframe. The line helps us meet the global demand that a number of nations have for [F-16] aircraft and gives us the additional capability to provide the aircraft to countries interested in purchasing it for the first time.”
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