Federal Labor has slammed the decision to cut back aviation firefighting at airports due to the coronavirus and has called on the government to provide greater funding to guarantee this critical safety service.
It follows the release, on Monday, of a report commissioned by the United Firefighters Union which said Airservices Australia's decision to cut the number of firefighting staff and equipment at major airports was putting $23 billion worth of planes and infrastructure at risk of "going up in smoke".
Airservices Australia's primary source of funding is from fees and charges applied to airline services, a revenue source which has been decimated by the pandemic.
The government provided some funding to Airservices Australia earlier in the pandemic and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack's office indicated it would continue to ensure the agency received proper funding.
But Member for Bean David Smith said the government needed to urgently provide funding to bolster firefighting resources at airports.
"Australia's airports and aviation safety regulations were never designed to accommodate a mass grounding," Mr Smith said.
"A grounded plane is not an idle one. Each day planes go through complex maintenance, which carries the risk of something going seriously wrong and quickly escalating into catastrophe.
"I am calling on Michael McCormack, in his role as minister for transport, to direct Airservices Australia to maintain current staffing levels."
Shadow minister for transport Catherine King said she had also written to Mr McCormack to secure assurances regarding firefighting funding.
"Australia will need our airports and aviation sector to respond quickly as travel restrictions are eased and services resume," Ms King said.
"To ensure that airports, parked aircraft and fuel supplies are kept safe, funding for fire fighting capability must be maintained by the government to ensure rapid response to any unforeseen incident at an airport."
A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the government was committed to supporting a strong and sustainable aviation industry.
"The government will continue to ensure Airservices Australia is appropriately funded, enabling it to maintain necessary staffing levels and provide the level of service expected by the public," the spokesman said.