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Overseas arrivals to be processed at Darwin airport as Olympians return

written by Hannah Dowling | August 4, 2021
A file image of Darwin Airport. (Australian Aviation archive)
Darwin Airport. (Australian Aviation archive)

The owners of Darwin Airport have struck a deal with state and territory governments that will see overseas arrivals processed at the airport terminal, as opposed to RAAF Base Darwin.

The deal to move the location of arrivals processing was made off the back of advice from Australia’s chief nurse, who raised concerns about processing lines of arrivals at the RAAF base during Darwin’s wet season.

The move requires stringent alterations made to the terminal itself to keep international arrivals away from domestic travellers, including separate air conditioning units for each part of the terminal.

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As the Darwin International Airport and RAAF Base Darwin share use of the same runway, previously, passengers arriving on international flights were moved to the RAAF Base for processing, before being moved to the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

According to Airport Development Group – which owns Darwin International – general manager Rob Porter, new walls have been erected inside the terminal to ensure overseas arrivals can be safely processed away from domestic travellers.

“Significant steps have been taken to ensure separation of repatriated passengers,” he said.

“This separation includes one entry point for passengers into the terminal from the aircraft and one exit point from the terminal onto buses to Howard Springs.”

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“The ground floor part of the terminal where repatriation passenger [processing takes place] is completely separate and secure,” he added.

The first international arrivals to be processed under the new system were part of the Australian Olympic team, who returned home from Tokyo on Tuesday morning.

More than 100 Australian Olympians arrived in Darwin on a charter flight from Tokyo and were processed within the terminal’s new infrastructure, before being moved to the Howard Springs facility for quarantine.

A second flight carrying a further 80 Olympic athletes is expected to land in Darwin on Monday.

Meanwhile, over 100 Australians onboard a repatriation flight from London touched down on Wednesday morning, and were also processed at Darwin airport, before being moved to Howard Springs.

“All health, security and baggage screening and processing were undertaken by the appropriate local and federal agencies in a secure and separate area on the ground floor of the DIA terminal,” ADG said in a statement.

Prior to welcoming Olympic athletes, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said she toured the airport last Saturday to inspect the introduced changes, and stated she was confident that all travellers could be processed safely.

“Everyone arriving in Australia through international repatriation are required to adhere to strict social distancing practices, stringent COVID-19 testing, infection prevention and control measures,” she said.

The Northern Territory state government first proposed that the processing of overseas arrivals before quarantine be moved from the RAAF base to the terminal at Darwin Airport back in June.

The state hoped to see the processing of international arrivals safely moved to within the airport terminal by the beginning of the NT’s wet season, which usually begins around November, following the advice of Australia’s chief nursing and midwifery officer Alison McMillan.

The country’s chief nurse reportedly made the recommendation to relocate the processing of overseas arrivals in February, after conducting a review of the NT’s infectious disease control processes.

Expanding on her recommendation, NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker elaborated that processing arrivals at the RAAF base in the wet season presented challenges “not only for the comfort of those who have been repatriated, but also the staff”, and made some note of “safety” concerns.

At that time, ADG said the move could pose some logistical problems.

Notably, as the airport terminal sees passenger thoroughfare from both international and domestic arrivals, the terminal would need drastic work completed to make it COVID-safe for domestic travellers, particularly in light of more contagious variants of the disease that are spreading globally.

ADG said this could include additional walls to keep parts of the terminal separate, and independent air conditioning systems.

Commissioner Chalker said that the airport’s renovations would likely include a “complete sterile corridor” that would separate the domestic and international sides of the airport.

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