Qantas bases a full-time engineer, to overcome Broome flight disruptions

In Australian Domestic Tourism, Featured Home Page News, Tourism Routes, Western Australia

Qantas which has seen a raft of cancellations at Broome International Airport over the past two months will base a full-time aircraft engineer to alleviate flight cancellations, that are forcing locals to house stranded passengers who cannot find accommodation.

The cancellations have affected Broome at the busiest time of the year, as accommodation prices soar and rooms book out months in advance.

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Three people with suitcases walk past a Broome sign smiling
Tourists flying through Broome have been affected by several flight cancellations.(ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

Qantas is set to base a full-time aircraft engineer in Broome to alleviate flight cancellations that are forcing locals to house stranded passengers who cannot find accommodation.

The cancellations are affecting the Western Australian tourism hotspot at the busiest time of the year, as accommodation prices soar and rooms book out months in advance.

Qantas, which has seen a raft of cancellations at Broome International Airport over the past two months, said the disruptions had been driven by “COVID-related staff challenges” and “engineering requirements”.

The airline confirmed to the ABC that it had sent a full-time engineer to service flights at the town’s airport to tackle technical issues.

“We now have a full-time engineer based in Broome and [are] working to build up our local engineering capabilities to minimise the risk of cancellations,” a spokesperson said.

A plane flies over a statue of Sam Male in Broome's Chinatown
Broome International Airport is servicing the region’s high tourism season.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

Permanent ‘de-manning’ behind problems

Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) federal secretary Steve Purvinas said the move followed cuts to permanent staff in the state’s north west.

He said two engineers based at Karratha Airport prior to the pandemic were regularly transported to airports around the north-west to service Qantas aircraft.

Airport sign showing flights cancelled
Flights around the north-west were also cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Hughes)

Mr Purvinas said that changed after the pandemic hit, with the airline pulling a flight engineer out of Karratha Airport who serviced many communities in the Pilbara region.

“This wasn’t a one-off COVID event. It was a permanent de-manning of that port,” he said.

“The [engineering] problems that have happened in Broome this year are not because someone was sick from COVID.

“Broome hasn’t been manned [by a full-time engineer] for 20 years.”

He said the airline had now “thrown a QantasLink bloke permanently into Broome, which we think is a better option”.

“The steps are positive, but it can’t undo the delays that passengers have suffered up until now,” Mr Purvinas said.

Residents affected by cancellations

Residents and business operators in Broome were frustrated by the flight cancellations, which they said had left the town to deal with the consequences.

Shire of Broome president Harold Tracey said the “disappointing” situation may have left tourists with a bad feeling after their holiday.

“When you’re stuck at an airport waiting to get back home, it doesn’t matter where you are,” he said.

“It’s not going to leave you with the most endearing memory.”

Passenger Anthony Hinkley was frustrated by a cancellation two weeks ago but was astounded by the kindness of locals who housed him after Qantas staff could not find accommodation.

“I saw people just turn up at the airport, ladies, gentleman, all sorts of different people, [and say], ‘I’ve got a room. Who would like to come?’, and, bang, they would just go,” he said.

“So my experience in Broome was: Love the people, loved everything I did up there.

“Would I come again? Yes, but I’ll fly with Virgin next time.”

A smiling woman and man stand in front of a taxi
Broome Taxi operators Lionel and Jo Sampson are among those helping stranded travellers.(ABC Kimberley: Taylor Thompson-Fuller)

Virgin Australia has also cancelled several flights at Broome International Airport.

Delays and cancellations have become the new normal at airports around Australia, which have experienced a surge in flights after COVID-19 restrictions eased, but without enough staff to service them.

Last week the situation forced Qantas to pre-emptively cancel 19 flights across regional WA, which were set to take off over the next four weeks.

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