AFOA members were welcomed to the association’s recent mini conference at the Emergency One’s headquarters in Cumnock, Ayrshire in Scotland, by the company’s Managing Director Mike Madsen and Director Steven Bell, alongside AFOA Chairman Simon Petts.

A morning of technical sessions was kicked off by Guy Barker, the recently appointed Aviation Contract Manager at the International Fire Training Centre in Darlington, hosts of the last AFOA mini conference. In the light of development plans at Darlington airport, Guy reiterated IFTC and Serco’s ongoing commitment to training at the venue and its strong order book of UK and international fire fighter training.

Simon Petts updated delegates on the welcome news that the Fire Service Long Service and Good Conduct Award has now been extended to cover all airport fire services, a change which has now received Royal Assent. Airport fire fighters are now eligible to receive the 20-year long service medal and the 30- and 40-year clasps. Military service can be included as part of the qualifying time and breaks in service are allowed. All airport fire services should have now received letters about this. Delegates were reminded that the award is for both long service and good conduct, and that long service alone does not necessarily justify the award.

Neil Gray Principal Aerodrome Inspector at the Civil Aviation Authority gave a comprehensive update. He began by reviewing the impact of the pandemic on flight numbers and incidents. Generally speaking, smaller airports (and internal flights) were much less affected than larger airports and international flights. A full recovery in UK flight numbers is expected in 2022. Despite the numerous challenges currently facing the industry including the drive for greater sustainability, impacts from the Ukraine crisis, rising fuel costs and the reduction in disposable incomes, IATA is still predicting a 44% growth in flight numbers over pre-pandemic levels.

The industry has been badly affected by the pandemic with ongoing issues including: difficulty in recruitment and retention of required staff; skills fade during the pandemic; expiration of certificates; changes in regulation; withdrawal of easements; travel disruption and disruptive passengers.

Neil also highlighted the seven key risk areas for the aviation sector: airborne conflict, aircraft environment, ground safety, terrain collision, runway incursion and runway excursion. He explored runway incursion, runway excursion and ground safety risks in detail as being key for aerodrome risk analysis.

Delegates were also reminded that while the general implementation of RFFS easements ceased at the end of March, individual applications can be considered with supporting justifications up until 30 September, when they will end completely.

He ended by reminding conference delegates of the CAA’s fiftieth anniversary this year. He shared extracts from the original 1972 CAP 168 document covering licensing of aerodromes. Anyone interested can obtain a copy of the original document from Neil.

Dr Thomas Budd, Lecturer in Airport Planning and Management at Cranfield University outlined the university’s recent research into RFFS training for newly hydrogen fuelled aircraft and demonstrated its newly developed VR tool for safe and immersive training for hydrogen fires. He was also joined by Jim Nixon, Senior Lecturer in Human Factors at Cranfield. Among some of the key differences they highlighted from existing kerosene-fuelled aircraft were: the likely variation in technologies, including hydrogen-powered fuel cells and engines and the fact that fuel will be stored in the fuselage rather than wings. Unlike carbonaceous fires, hydrogen fires do not emit smoke or have a visible flame, nor do they radiate heat, so it is possible to stand very close to them without ‘feeling’ them; sensory experiences will be very different for hydrogen fires. The new training tools can be used on PCs, laptops and smartphones and are free to download from the University’s website. The university is also developing the training for VR headsets.

In the afternoon Mike Madsen and Steven Bell of Emergency One hosted delegates on a full tour of their factory including the production lines where the company builds upwards of 240 fire fighting vehicles each year. There were also live demonstrations of equipment ranges by Clan Tools and Plant Ltd including Lukas edraulic battery-powered cutting tools, Akron Brass nozzles, Vetter lifting bags, BioEx fluorine free ecological firefighting foams and Leader nozzles, cameras, monitors and ventilators. The Emergency One vehicle range includes light, medium and supertenders; aerial and turntable ladders, command and control vehicles and a variety of special vehicles, many of which could be seen in production. Delegates were also given exclusive access to the E1 EV0 electric vehicle in construction and given a preview of a new vehicle range expected to be launched to the public at Interschutz 2022.

Delegates were also treated to a networking dinner and quiz in the evening, which rounded off a highly successful event.

The next AFOA event is the AGM scheduled to take place at Emergency Services Show at the NEC, Birmingham 21-22 September 2022. AFOA is currently exploring the potential to hold its next full-scale conference at Gatwick in October 2022.