The use of flight simulators by pilots is well-known – at any given time of day there is at least one being used in the Brisbane Airport precinct. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is also an Airside Driving Simulator in use to help increase safety at the airport.
And if you are ever using the Airside Driving Simulator at Brisbane Airport, there’s a good chance Niel Young will be your trainer. Niel is an Airside Operations Training Coordinator, and his role is focused on the ongoing safety and compliance of all people and vehicles at the airport.
It’s been a long and winding road for Niel to his current role, one that started many moons ago when he was a Jackaroo on an isolated property out west. If you’re not Aussie and don’t know what a jackaroo is, it’s a person who works on a sheep or cattle station, who assists with any farm duties and uses horses or motorbikes to muster the livestock. Think of Hugh Jackman in the movie Australia…
That’s what Niel was doing in his early working days, and it was also his first real look at aviation.
“The boss had a Piper Cherokee – a light aircraft we’d use for mustering. I’d go up with him quite often to have a look around. And I just got that little bit of aviation in the blood. It sparked an interest.”
Eventually, Niel hung up his jackaroo boots and made his way to Brisbane Airport, where he started working for a security contractor monitoring alarms at the domestic terminal. When he saw a position pop up to work as an Airside Operations Officer, he jumped at the opportunity to change careers yet again.
In regard to the Airside Officers, Niel muses that most people just see a vehicle driving around. They don’t know what the officers are actually doing.
“Our main role is safety and compliance. We keep the airfield and the runway safe. We manage wildlife hazards. We look for foreign object debris. We make sure that nothing’s obscuring the safety of the aircraft and the travelling public.”
The team is also there for emergency responses, such as medical emergencies on an aircraft or an emergency landing. There will always be Airside Operations Officers there to provide assistance.
And for all these scenarios, training is critically important.
Safety is at the heart of all aviation businesses, and Brisbane Airport is no different. The formalised training programs Niel and the Airside Operations team have put in place result in highly skilled staff and demonstrate that BAC meets the regulatory requirements for ongoing training with CASA and the Industry Skills Council.
The Airside Driving Simulator is an important part of the training programs. It was originally developed so that Airside Operations Officers could be trained on the new runway system.
“We incorporated the new taxiways, the runway, the lighting systems, the topography, the drainage, the fence lines, the perimeter roads and all that, as well as the existing infrastructure.”
There were 32 Airside Officers who needed to develop experience on the new runway before it opened. The Airside Driving Simulator enables a safe environment for this training to take place and can simulate a variety of scenarios.
“It allows us to create challenging situations for an officer and look at how they deal with them without physically being there. We’re not putting the driver in harm’s way. If there is a mistake, we can look at how we can rectify that. It’s a much safer option", explains Niel.
"It can be storming outside. It could be night time. Any time of the day or night we can create these simulations. It’s very flexible.”
Whilst built especially for the launch of the new runway, it was always intended that there would be ongoing use of the simulator.
“We built into the system elements like Foreign Object Debris (FOD), wildlife, and new issues we have with drones (UAVs). There are construction cranes that we can put in there as well for doing obstacle limitation surface checks. We can change the weather conditions. We do a lot of training in relation to low visibility procedures and runway visibility assessments. We can put our officer in those situations, simulating the scenario – whereas it’s difficult to go out there on any given day and create a low visibility situation. It gives the officer that experience and they can see what it’s like.”
The Airside Driving Simulator is also used by other organisations using the airport – such as Airservices Australia's Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Service (ARFFS). Before the opening of the new runway, 80 Aviation Rescue Fire Fighters trained on the simulator to practice their response in different scenarios and identify the best routes to get to different locations.
It’s clear when you’re talking to Niel that he is passionate about his job and understands the importance of it.
“If it’s a day where nothing happens, we’ve done our job.”
So, next time you look out a plane window and see an Airside Officer’s vehicle, you’ll know what work they’re doing and the role they play in keeping you safe.