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Exclusive: Airports still in the dark on international travel requirements

written by Hannah Dowling | September 15, 2021
Grounded Jetstar planes parked at Avalon (@avalonairport)

Airports around Australia are calling on the government to clarify the procedures and requirements around post-pandemic travel “as soon as possible”, so the aviation industry can adequately prepare.

While airports have comfortably adapted to cater to current overseas repatriation efforts, the industry remains in the dark about some key requirements for a mass return of international flights, said Australian Airports Association CEO James Goodwin.

“At the moment, we still don’t know what procedures will be for passengers coming in from overseas, and what is needed of airports, airlines, staff and government agencies to facilitate that,” Goodwin told Australian Aviation.

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“There are long lead times in aviation, so six or 12 months is not actually a long time in our world. So a lot of this planning could have and should have been done a long time ago.”

It comes as alarms have been raised that airports, and the industry more broadly, is not yet prepared to see the influx of international passenger traffic, should international borders reopen by the end of this year.

Specifically, Goodwin said the industry is unaware of exactly how the government wants passengers to be screened both before and after their flights, and how passengers who must enter hotel quarantine will be separated from others.

“It’s so important that we know what those rules and protocols will be for passengers as soon as possible, including how they’ll be screened, because if we need to make changes to our terminal to account for that, it will take time,” he said.

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“Airports weren’t designed to be separating passengers based on their health or their vaccine status, so we need to prepare.”

Meanwhile, Avalon Airport chief executive Justin Giddings said that while airports have already adapted to COVID-safe infrastructure, “staffing is going to be an issue moving forward”.

Giddings said that while airports have kept their doors largely open throughout the pandemic, traffic has fallen dramatically, and airports weren’t offered the same additional wage subsidies offered to airlines.

“We can have staff on hand, trained, and ready to go, but we need the resources, so we’re hoping the government will expand those programs to include operational airport workers as well as baggage handlers working for third parties.”

Brisbane Airport’s executive general manager for aviation Jim Parashos said that both the state and federal governments should be making such decisions in close consultation with the industry.

“Guidance, teamwork and collaboration are absolutely key here, and I urge both the state and federal governments to work with airports and airlines to make sure we’re active participants in this crucial decision-making,” Parashos said.

“We know that the process for incoming passengers is going to look different whether you’re from a ‘green’ COVID-safe country, or an amber or a red country, and it’s really important that airports and airlines are involved in those decisions and understand them.”

Goodwin agreed, stating, “We’re here to help facilitate this process, we want to reopen Australia, but there’s a lot involved with this and we don’t want to get it wrong.

“The planning needs to be done right the first time, every airport is a little bit different, and we need to develop a uniform approach to pre and post-flight processing, as well as quarantine arrangements, and this is why it’s important that decisions are made in consultation with us.”

Goodwin said that most of the required passenger screening, including any pre-flight COVID testing or vaccination verification, should ideally occur in advance of even stepping into the airport.

“We don’t want people arriving at airports, and then having to be screened, and adding to wait times,” he said. “People need to be cleared as quickly as possible, we don’t want to see people waiting at the airport for hours for screening, so this needs to be done ahead of time.”

The airports are also generally in agreement that any onsite screening of passengers in relation to public health should be also facilitated by government agencies, such as immigration and border force officials, as opposed to airport or airline staff.

Another key issue, according to Goodwin, is ensuring that the Australian government is prioritising the recognition of non-Australian vaccine certificates, to re-allow for tourists to enter Australia.

“While it’s great that our Medicare vaccine certificates could be synced with our passports, but we need to be working to recognise vaccines that were administered overseas, so that we can finally once again welcome tourists, and give relief to those industries most affected by the lack of tourism.”

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