Firefighter's union claims cuts could cost lives

THE national firefighters' union has warned a potential federal government move to cut firefighting support at regional airports could put lives at risk.

While Australia has one of the best aviation safety records in the world, the United Firefighters Union fears the introduction of a policy proposal from the federal infrastructure department.

The policy, released late last year and yet to be endorsed by either side of politics, would lift the funding threshold for local aviation rescue firefighting units from 350,000 passengers to 500,000 a year.

If the next government acts on the proposal, it could abolish firefighting units in regional towns such as Coffs Harbour, Broome and Gladstone.

UFU secretary Peter Marshall said the union had launched a campaign against the proposal, as aviation firefighters had only three minutes to reach a plane crash or fire to give passengers the best chance of survival.

"You can't play around with airport firefighting," he said.

"Airplane fuel burns hot and fast and if we don't get there within three minutes the consequences are devastating.

"The Federal Government's cost-cutting closure of airport fire stations completely disregards passenger safety and hurts local tourism and business."

Submissions on the policy paper closed in February.

The paper noted that an increase in the threshold could lead to fewer aviation firefighting units being funded, but said the allocation of resources would be directly linked to the objective of saving lives.

Mr Marshall said the union would be touring "affected regions" during the election campaign and calling for local politicians to push Canberra for more funding.

"This proposal would put communities and air travellers at risk by shutting down vital airport firefighting services and mean many more airports in regional areas will be left without firefighting services for decades," he said.

"People travelling to regional Australia deserve the same aviation fire protection as those travelling between the big cities."