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BA pilot’s claim over firefighter numbers incorrect, say airport bosses

L. F. Wade International Airport (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Passengers on a Bermuda-bound flight were told that a shortage of firefighters in Bermuda had caused their departure to be delayed for hours.

The Royal Gazette has heard from multiple sources that those on board the July 29 British Airways flight from Heathrow to the island were told by the pilot that their flight had been delayed because there were not “enough fire crews on hand”.

However, the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority and Skyport said that there were enough firefighters on the ground to accommodate the flight.

Thomas Dunstan, the director-general of the BCAA, said last week that it was determined that there was an “acceptable level of fire service” in place in advance of the flight.

Mr Dunstan said: “As the aviation regulator, BCAA conducts regular oversight of all certificate holders, including Skyport.

“In all instances, BCAA follows a strict oversight protocol and ensures that regulatory compliance is maintained for all users including airlines, the airport and the travelling public.

“We hold our safety standards to the highest level and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward."

Aaron Adderley, president of Skyport, added: “The BFRS had sufficient resources available on the day to facilitate the British Airways flight as they have each day the flight has and is scheduled to operate.

“We are aware that the BFRS has a plan in place to expand its manpower resources and is making very positive progress towards that end.

“Skyport, the Airport Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority are all working collectively to provide support as needed.”

Lester Nelson, the CEO of the Bermuda Airport Authority, said yesterday that the delay was “partially due to the provision of airport rescue and firefighting services” at the airport.

Mr Nelson said: “RFFS includes many technical specifications and due to recent changes in the RFFS specifications, Skyport, Bermuda Airport Authority and Bermuda Fire and Rescue Services have been in regular contact with British Airways to ensure their uninterrupted operations at our airport.

“Owing to a recent increase in the minimum number of firefighters required per shift from five to 12, additional co-ordination and communication with British Airways will continue until additional resources are recruited in order to provide a sustainable RFFS service.

“The airport team is committed to ensuring uninterrupted and safe Rescue and Fire Fighting Services at the LF Wade International Airport.”

Mr Nelson and Mr Adderley confirmed that the airport’s RFFS category is now 7, but it is upgraded to Category 8 to cover the British Airways flight.

Mr Nelson added: “The highest level of RFFS provided at the airport is Category 8, which is provided for all British Airway’s operations involving their Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

“While the 777 is rated by the aircraft’s manufacturer as a Category 9 aircraft for RFFS purposes, the aviation regulations permit operations up to one RFFS category below the aircraft’s category.

“The aviation regulators include the UK Civil Aviation Authority for British Airways and the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority for Bermuda. Both of these regulators and their regulations are aligned with the International Civil Aviation Organization.”

A spokesman from the Bermuda Fire Service Association said that they had heard about the incident from a member who was on board the flight, but the group otherwise knew little about what happened.

“The story we were given was that the captain announced to the passengers that due to insufficient staffing of the Bermuda fire service, the flight could not take off in London until adequate numbers were confirmed,” the spokesman said.

“We have unfortunately been kept in the dark on most of the dealings surrounding the airport situation, which is unfortunate because we simply wish to offer our assistance in any way we can, but to also put our members' minds at ease.

“When we ask for information, we're simply told there isn't any to share and they will get back to us. This has gone on for months since this all started and continues to occur.”

The spokesman added that there was confusion about the status of the island’s RFFS category as the British Airways flight uses a Category 9 aircraft.

The BFSA spokesman said: “BA is a Category 9 aircraft and our airport ideally is too in terms of aircraft that travel through our airspace and can land here in emergencies.

“Our estimates are that the number will be anywhere from 14 to 16 firefighters required on duty which would result in the need to raise the current total staffing numbers at the airport from 23 to 42 to 48 bare minimum.

“That would likely result in the hiring of more overseas firefighters in the short term and a drastic need to hire and train Bermudians in the long term.

“In our estimation there are potentially dark times ahead as both the airport category and the BA flight continue to be in jeopardy — although silently as no information seems to be reaching the public.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Security reiterated that efforts have been made in recent months to increase the number of firefighters at the airport.

“Earlier this year the airport’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Service category was downgraded,” he said. “Following the arrival of ten temporary overseas airport firefighters, the category was upgraded to meet the full requirements of all commercial airlines operating to Bermuda, with the exception of British Airways.”

The Government brought in ten Canadian firefighters.

“BA’s B777 aircraft requires a higher ARFF service category with additional firefighters to cover BA’s flight operations in Bermuda. This requires co-ordination and scheduling additional firefighters for these flights.

“The airport team, including the Bermuda Airport Authority, Skyport and Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, have been in regular contact with BA local and overseas teams regarding the RFFS co-ordination.

“The airport team and BA are committed to ensuring British Airways continues operations to Bermuda.”

· This story has been updated with additional comments from Lester Nelson.

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Published August 09, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated August 09, 2022 at 2:47 pm)

BA pilot’s claim over firefighter numbers incorrect, say airport bosses

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