Qantas to overcome flight disruptions at Broome International Airport with full-time engineer

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

Cancellations are hitting the Western Australian tourist hotspot at its busiest time of year, as accommodation prices soar and rooms are booked months in advance.

Qantas, which has experienced a series of cancellations at Broome International Airport over the past two months, said the disruptions were caused by “COVID-related staffing challenges” and “technical requirements”.

The airline confirmed to the ABC that it had sent a full-time engineer to operate flights at the city’s airport to resolve technical issues.

“We now have a full-time engineer based in Broome and [are] work to strengthen our local engineering capabilities to minimize the risk of cancellation,” a spokesperson said.

Broome International Airport serves the region’s peak tourist season.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

Permanent ‘de-manning’ behind the problems

Australian Association of Chartered Aeronautical Engineers (ALAEA) Federal Secretary Steve Purvinas said the move followed permanent staff reductions in the north west of the state.

He said two engineers based at Karratha Airport before the pandemic were regularly flown to airports in the northwest to service Qantas planes.

Airport sign indicating canceled flights
Flights in the northwest have also been canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Hughes)

Mr Purvinas said that changed after the pandemic, with the airline removing a flight engineer from Karratha airport which served many communities in the Pilbara region.

“It was not a one-time COVID event. It was a permanent dismantling of this port,” he said.

“The [engineering] the problems that happened in Broome this year were not because someone was sick with COVID.

“Broome was not inhabited [by a full-time engineer] for 20 years.”

He said the airline had now ‘launched a type of QantasLink permanently in Broome which we believe is a better option’.

“The measures are positive, but they cannot undo the delays passengers have experienced so far,” Purvinas said.

Residents affected by cancellations

Broome residents and shopkeepers were frustrated by flight cancellations, which they said had left town to deal with the consequences.

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

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

“It will not leave you with the most endearing memory.”

Passenger Anthony Hinkley was frustrated by a cancellation two weeks ago but was amazed by the friendliness of locals who accommodated him after Qantas staff were unable to find accommodation.

“I saw people arriving at the airport, ladies, gentlemen, all kinds of different people, [and say], ‘I have a bedroom. Who would like to come?’, and, bang, they would leave,” he said.

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

“Would I come back? Yes, but I will 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 canceled several flights at Broome International Airport.

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

Last week, the situation forced Qantas to preemptively cancel 19 flights across the WA area, which were due to take off over the next four weeks.

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