Avalon Airport has pitched the Victorian government a plan for it to transform into a quarantine facility for return travellers that would mimic the operation at Howard Springs.
Chief executive Justin Giddings said the site would allow returnees to walk from the international terminal to 300 standalone cabins providing outdoor space to guests.
The proposals have even received a tentative vote of confidence from Premier Daniel Andrews, who said the idea has “obviously got some real strengths”.
The cabin proposals would allow repatriated Australians to cook their own meals, clean their own cabins and spend time outside.
The proximity of the airport means no bus transfer would be required and the nearest private home is more than 10 kilometres away.
“The whole idea would be to fly people in from overseas and see them effectively walk to a quarantine area for 14 days, reducing the needs for buses,” Giddings told The Age.
“They would be self-contained units like Howard Springs, but more modern and isolated away from other passengers or any of the public. We have a lot of land available. It would also allow for easy access to Melbourne and Geelong if people needed medical attention.”
Premier Andrews that while no decision had been made, the site had the benefit of offer large amounts of space.
“That could work well for, say, charter flights, where the Australian government can direct those flights to land wherever they choose,” he said.
“I doubt that would work quite as well for some of the commercial flights that are coming back … I expect they would want to land at Melbourne Airport. I can’t speak for them but that would be my active assumption.”
The Howard Springs facility, which Avalon is modelling on, first took in large numbers of international travellers in October when it also expanded its capacity.
The news follows Premier Andrews hinting that Australia should lower its arrival numbers and have a “cold, hard discussion” of how best to keep new variants of COVID out.
“With this UK strain – and we haven’t even got on to South Africa yet, because it’s just as bad – should we be halving the total number of people coming home?” said Premier Andrews last week. “Or should it be a much smaller program that’s based on compassionate grounds?”
On Monday, Australia’s arrival caps returned to their previously higher December 2020 levels, which were cut at the start of 2021 following a second COVID cluster in Sydney.
From 15 February, NSW will return to its weekly cap of 3,010 and Queensland to 1,000.
In January, the temporary cuts formed part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, and also include a provision for passengers to wear masks on all domestic and international flights; for hotel staff to be tested daily and for ex-pats to require a negative result before boarding a repatriation flight.
Arrival caps were introduced in July and sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021.
The idea is one of several innovative ideas Avalon has implemented during the pandemic, which have included ‘touchless’ check-in kiosks where the on-screen cursor is controlled by head movements and a new security system that lets passengers keep their laptops in their bags.
In May 2020, the ambitious airport also pitched the idea Avalon could be one of just a handful to accept flights from New Zealand as flying slowly begins to resume.