Gold Coast Airport chief operating officer Marion Charlton says the legacy of the airport’s textbook execution of its operations during the recent Commonwealth Games is the confidence it has all the tools to handle events of similar magnitude in the future.
Over a two-week period in April, the airport at Coolangatta just north of the New South Wales-Queensland border handled some 3,500 athletes and officials for the Commonwealth Games, as well as the thousands of spectators that made their way to the Gold Coast for the sporting competition.
Not to mention the usual bunch of travellers headed to the Gold Coast for music festivals, theme parks and the beach during the Easter and school holiday period.
It was hardly a normal operating environment. As a result, much planning went into managing the peak times in the lead to the start of competition and the day after the closing ceremony, including learning from the Glasgow experience four years ago.
Charlton said there was a great sense of achievement among all the airport’s staff following the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games.
“When you put that kind of effort in and then it kind of goes to plan, that glow is definitely with us,” Charlton said in an interview with Australian Aviation.
“The Games was like planning a wedding without knowing the guest list – major events are not an exact science, but this was a new level.
“The key point for our team during the Games was the need for flexibility and contingency plans, and while this is something we already knew, it was reinforced during the Games.
“You don’t often say textbook in the aviation industry but it just went so well.
“Hopefully that will be part of the legacy, the fact you pulled something off like that and you know you can do it again.”
To cater for the influx of visitors to the Gold Coast, an old retail storage area was repurposed as a lounge for athletes and officials, taking pressure off the main terminal area – which is already operating at or above capacity depending on the time of the day – for regular travellers.
In addition to providing the Commonwealth Games family with a relaxing area before and after flights, the lounge also allowed the airport to better manage the special equipment such as pole vaults, firearms and bikes at a dedicated checkin facilities.
And the airport also had a daily entertainment program featuring indigenous dancing, live music, wildlife presentations and theatre performances running throughout the day as part of efforts to offer a unique and fun welcome and farewell experience for everyone.
VIDEO: A look at the Commonwealth Games lounge, as shown on Gold Coast Airport’s YouTube channel.
Charlton said the Commonwealth Games lounge was a big hit with all involved.
“It delighted and completely blew away the games family and athletes when they arrived,” Charlton said.
The airport also completed $86 million of airside improvements prior to the start of the Commonwealth Games, including a new apron that added additional aircraft parking space, as well as more taxiways.
Gold Coast Airport turns attention to Project Lift
And with the Commonwealth Games caravan having packed up and headed to Birmingham in the United Kingdom in 2022, attention is being turned towards the $340 million expansion to the main passenger terminal known as Project Lift.
Charlton said the airport was in consultation with its airline operators on the design of the project, which includes a new three-level facility with aerobridges that will be the primary area for international flights, as well as improvements on ground transport.
“That common departure area, which is outside of international, it is at capacity all day,” Charlton said.
“It used to be that for example if you needed work done in the terminal you could say ‘could you come in between 3-5 when it is a bit quieter?’ We don’t have any opportunity for that any more.
“The terminal is pumping all day long for domestic and then we overlay an international peak on top of that in the morning and a smaller international peak in the afternoon.”
Charlton said there would be flexibility in the terminal design, with the aerobridge gates being swing gates that can be used for domestic flights at times where they are no international flights.
And the airport planned to keep a mix of aerobridge gates and ground level gates.
“The bulk of our passengers will still have that wonderful experience of walking onto the tarmac,” Charlton said.
“I suppose although we are beautiful one day, perfect the next, we do, particularly in summer, have a fair amount of rain.
“People do quite enjoy walking out onto the tarmac but on those rainy days it is a concern to the customer.”
There is also a hotel in development.
Also, Charlton said the instrument landing system (ILS) that was approved in 2016 was expected to be operational later in 2018.
Among the top 12 busiest airports in Australia, Gold Coast sits sixth and is the only one without an ILS, which helps reduce the number of missed approaches, diversions and delays due to weather. It is being installed for flights landing from the north on Runway 14.
“It’s a great thing for us to have the terminal development, the apron, the hotel and ILS,” Charlton said.
“It just feels it is our time at Gold Coast Airport and all these things are falling into place.”