Aviation experts have explained why passengers are forced to be stuck on a plane for hours on the tarmac when something goes wrong.
Geoffrey Thomas, editor of aireratings.com, said “you wouldn’t dream” of allowing passengers out onto the airfield unless there was a serious emergency.
The expert, who has 45 years’ experience in the industry, told Daily Mail Australia the rule included ensuring the safety of passengers and crew members.
It comes after Qantas passengers flying from Sydney to the Gold Coast on Tuesday evening found themselves stranded on the tarmac for three hours after landing.
Up to 120 customers were forced to wait for trained drivers and engineers to assess a problem with the plane’s nose gear steering.
After several hours, the plane was manually towed to the terminal by a tugboat.
It comes just days after the embattled airline was forced to apologize to passengers on Boeing 737 flight QF93 from Melbourne to Los Angeles after waiting six hours on the tarmac before their flight was ultimately canceled.
Mr Thomas said there were several reasons why passengers could not disembark at the operational part of the airfield, including simply because it took too long.
Aviation experts have lifted the lid on the real reason why passengers are not allowed to disembark from a plane directly on the tarmac (photo, customer goes up the stairs)
He said getting people on and off the plane can take up to an hour, with some passengers then walking away or having a few too many drinks at the airport bar.
“Then there are people who come down and decide there must be a problem with the plane and get upset,” the expert said.
He added that if the passenger then decided to leave the terminal, their luggage would have to come out of the hold, which would take even longer.
Mr Thomas said the return to the terminal could take longer if there was no tug available, whether or not there was a mechanical problem.
“The tugs are always running from one plane to another,” he said, adding that towing a broken plane instead of repairing the problem was always a last resort.
Mr Thomas said it was common in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi and Doha for passengers to be taken by bus to board the plane via a remote car park because there were not enough gates at the airport.
However, it is more likely that Australian passengers will board planes via an airbridge or by taking a short walk across the tarmac to a set of stairs.
Australian passengers will board planes via an aerobridge or by taking a short walk across the tarmac to a staircase (pictured)
Peter White of Aviation Projects Australia told Daily Mail Australia that unloading an aircraft in the operational part of an aerodrome presented major risks, such as passengers getting lost or suffering a medical episode on the tarmac.
“Safety is the priority for airlines, as is protecting aircraft,” he said.
“It’s different for crew members who are trained and qualified. Passengers are neither trained nor allowed to even walk a short distance.
He added that tugboats are not necessarily owned by airlines, but are usually provided by airport contractors, meaning they are not always readily available.
Mr White agreed that only in the event of an emergency, such as an engine fire, would passengers be asked to evacuate directly onto the tarmac.
“It would be a very serious situation, with the firefighters and the police,” he said.
Passengers are at greater risk of injury in the middle of an operational airfield, with the majority of airlines preferring to keep people on board in the event of delays or technical problems.
It is understood that Qantas passengers cannot disembark from a plane directly onto a runway for safety reasons, except in an emergency. This is why flights taxi to a bay near the terminal once they land.
In the case of the Sydney-Gold Coast flight on Tuesday evening, the plane was unable to leave the runway on its own due to a hydraulic problem and had to wait to be towed.
Additionally, no buses were available at Gold Coast Airport to transport customers from the plane to the terminal.
A Qantas spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia: “For safety reasons, passengers cannot disembark from an aircraft directly onto a runway.”