A FIFO fix

MANY Australians will remember the 1989-90 pilots’ strike but few will probably recall the disruption it caused to Australia’s mining industry.
A FIFO fix A FIFO fix A FIFO fix A FIFO fix A FIFO fix

Noel Dyson

At the time fly-in fly-out work was still very much in its infancy. However, it had become a major part of many of the mines in Western Australia’s northwest.

In August 1989 the Australian Federation of Air Pilots started what was to be a six-day campaign in which pilots on Australia’s two main domestic airlines, Australian and Ansett, refused to fly outside the hours of 9am to 5pm. This was part of a campaign to get an almost 30% pay rise.

Due to the reaction of the airlines, backed by the Australian government, many pilots resigned en masse, making the strike last several months.

With many of the commercial jet services grounded, Australia’s miners had to look at some out of the box solutions.
 At one stage a DC-3, a type of plane that saw action in World War II and the Berlin Airlift, was pressed into service to ferry mineworkers to and from site.

At least one miner brought in some twin engine turboprop planes from Canada, complete with their pilots to transport workers to and from site.

Of course this led to some interesting flights.

The problem with turboprop, and in the case of the DC-3, piston-engined, planes is that they cannot fly high enough to get above the turbulent air over WA’s Mid West and Pilbara regions.

On one flight a worker ended up with a broken arm, due to being thrown about the cabin due to turbulence. That caused the plane to stop off enroute so the injured worker could be taken off for treatment.

Some of the executives based in Melbourne would have to fly to Singapore, stay overnight and then to Perth for meetings.

By early 1990 the pilot strike had ended and the miners were able to return to normal FIFO services.