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Wednesday, 16 April 1980
Page: 1535

Senator Chaney -On 5 March 1980 Senator Watson asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Transport, a question without notice concerning fire fighting vehicles at Australian airports.

The Minister for Transport has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator's question.

The vehicle he referred to is not in fact a rapid intervention fire appliance but a Walter 6,800 litre ultra-large fire tender.

The Department of Transport is satisfied with the operational performance of the Walter Fire Appliance at both the recent fatal air crash and simulated accident at Sydney Airport when the appliance operated with speed and efficiency. In the case of the fatal air crash it was the first attack vehicle to reach the accident scene and the first to apply foam to the fire area which was controlled in 30 seconds. The Department is aware of a hydraulic malfunction to the power assistance system of the foam monitor during both operations, but there was no failure of the appliance as suggested by the honourable senator in his question. The Walter vehicles, and all other hydraulically operated fire appliances on airports, are fitted with ' fail safe ' devices that enable the operator to select manual operation in the event of hydraulic failure. This technique was not used on either occasion referred to by the honourable senator as it was not considered necessary by the operators at the stage of operations where the malfunctions occurred. The hydraulic malfunctions were in no way the fault of the vehicle design, but resulted from an error by maintenance personnel who fitted an incorrect type of hydraulic hose to the vehicle.

Regarding the question of an independent evaluation of the appliance, the Department does not consider that this would be of any benefit as Airport Fire Tenders are specialised vehicles and it is doubtful if any outside authority could provide the expertise for the type of evaluation envisaged. The Departmental policy is to monitor the inservice performance of all fire appliances to enable an assessment to be made of faults and problems which may result in a modification or future design or specification change.

All Airport Fire Tenders carry necessary adaptors to ensure compatibility with appliances operated by State and local government authorities.

Fire appliance specifications have never been written so as to exclude Australian manufacturers. Such specifications are drawn up by a panel of engineering and operational experts within the Department of Transport and are designed to meet the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the conditions under which the vehicles must operate in Australia.

Although no Australian firm submitted a suitable tender for the 6,800 litre fire tenders, a recent contract for 9, 100 litre fire tenders involves a joint construction program involving American designed vehicles being partially manufactured in both the USA and Australia, with final assembly in this country. The contract involves extensive Australian content.

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