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How COVID-19 ushered in the airports of tomorrow, today

written by Adam Thorn | June 20, 2022

Elenium installed touchless check-in kiosks at Avalon during COVID

Australian Aviation is gearing up to host our first-ever Australian Aviation Awards later this year, and we’re looking for airports that have adapted to the chaotic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by offering innovative services to keep passengers safe.

The Airport of the Year award is just one of 24 categories on offer at the inaugural Australian Aviation Awards, which will recognise the hard work, dedication, and resilience demonstrated by the Australian aviation industry amid a period of unprecedented challenges at a glittering ceremony on Thursday 1 September 2022 in Sydney.

For the Airport of the Year category, we are looking for an airport that has adopted biosecurity measures and created a safe and comfortable environment for passenger and staff movement through the facilities.

Entrants must also demonstrate any innovation that has shaped their business (not limited to financial gains), and highlight any major success, achievement, or milestone between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021.

They must outline how their business support increased jobs in the aviation industry while providing upskilling for the Australian workforce.


Nominations and submissions will close on Thursday 30 June 2022.

As COVID-19 reached Australia’s shores and upended our lives in 2020, international and interstate borders were quickly shuttered to curtail the rapid spread of the virus.

Shortly after, we were inundated with news and headlines about quarantine rules, COVID-19 test requirements, and hygiene protocols, notwithstanding the significant job losses and declines in revenue in the aviation industry.

Amid all of this upheaval, airports and aviation businesses saw an opportunity for innovation and fast-tracked the adoption of technology reminiscent of a science fiction novel and would have otherwise taken years to implement. ‘Contactless’ and ‘touchless’ became the buzzwords of this new era.

Australian Aviation recounts some of the ways airports in Australia and around the globe adapted to the new world. The broad spectrum of changes was part practical, part quirky, part straight out of a futuristic novel or movie, but all necessary to keep passengers safe.

We hope it will inspire you to submit an entry for the awards and regale us about how your airport innovated and adopted in 2021 to continue operating despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Thermometer 2.0 and AI robots

Some of the world’s more glamorous airports introduced measures that we’d only seen in Hollywood sci-fi productions. For example, at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, suited staff wore thermal screening helmets to enable contactless temperature measurements through advanced technologies such as infrared thermal imaging, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality.

Alongside this, Hamad began sending all baggage through ‘ultraviolet disinfection tunnels’ before giving it a good old spray with disinfectant.

The airport also employed AI robots to clean the floor, with the fully autonomous mobile devices emitting a ‘concentrated UV-C light’ to exterminate infectious microorganisms.

Avalon Airport goes touchless

Back on Australian shores, Avalon Airport was one of the first airports to introduce touchless check-in and bag drop kiosks to reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus.

The facility allows passengers to control an on-screen cursor by moving their head, while cameras certify passports when they are held up to a sensor, rather than physically inserted.

The airport, which serves both Melbourne and Geelong, had previously introduced non-contact temperature, respiratory, and heart rate technology developed by Elenium.

Thermal temperature checks in Canberra Airport

Passengers did not have to travel all the way to Qatar for Thermometer 2.0. The Australian capital city airport announced in 2020 that passengers moving through its security would have their temperature checked by a thermal imaging camera to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.

Under the measure — which the airport claimed was the first in Australia — passengers with a body temperature more than 37.8 degrees were checked by a nurse, who provided them with a face mask.

If the passenger continued to display symptoms, the airline was informed, which would then make a decision on whether the passenger could fly.

Auckland Airport Brings Forward $26m Runway Works

Despite the COVID-19-fuelled downturn in the aviation industry, some airports viewed this as an opportunity to upgrade their services.

For example, across the ditch, Auckland Airport brought forward a $26 million runway works project, with general manager Andre Lovatt saying that while the project had been planned for some time, the pandemic-related disruptions opened a window to bring construction forward to the earliest available time while runway traffic were at an all-time low.

The airport used a method called ‘displaced threshold’ to replace the pavement, which would normally require aircraft to reduce their weight. However, it was predicted that this would occur naturally due to the reduction in passenger numbers.

The project created work for 150 people over three months, and involved the removal and replacement of 280 36-square metre slabs in the eastern end of the touchdown zone.

Critical projects completed at Australian airports

It was not just our Kiwi counterparts who put the COVID-19 crisis and associated downturn in the aviation industry to good use. Closer to home, airports also viewed it as an opportunity to plan and complete a range of critical on-airport projects with more than $1 billion worth of infrastructure and equipment upgrades completed in 2020.

For example, new runways were installed at Brisbane and Sunshine Coast airports, while the runway was extended at Gold Coast Airport, and resurfaced in Sydney.

Meanwhile, Perth’s second runway was also approved.

Sixty-one regional airports shared in more than $41.2 million for projects funded under the first round of the Australian Government’s Regional Airports Program while applications were assessed for subsequent rounds.

Brisbane Airport Online Store Saves 25 Jobs

Brisbane Airport demonstrated what it means to pivot during the pandemic, announcing that it had saved 25 jobs by launching a new online store selling 200 heavily discounted items such as iPads, laptops, and beauty products.

The new BNE Marketplace aimed to fill the gap left by the 96 per cent footfall decline caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Lotte Duty Free, the airport’s largest retail outlet, was the first to offer products online while more followed depending on the project’s success rate. Alcohol, perfume, and chocolates were added to the store, while click-and-collect services were also considered over subsequent weeks.

General manager Martin Ryan said: “If necessity is the mother of invention, COVID-19 is its father. The BAC team has gone from concept to full e-commerce site in just 16 days.”

Airports assemble

In the midst of chaos and disruption, the silver lining of the pandemic has been that it has fast-tracked the development and implementation of new technological tools. Social distancing rules and testing requirements forced airports to think on their feet and adapt to the new conditions.

Passenger safety and hygiene were key priorities for airports as they sought to limit the transmission of COVID-19. This necessity spurred innovation and resulted in new and unique gadgets and processes.

If these tales of innovation have inspired you to tell us how you have pivoted during the pandemic, enter the Australian Aviation Awards in the Airport of the Year category.

The gala event will be held in person on Thursday, 1 September 2022 at 7pm at The Star in Sydney and will present an opportunity for professionals to showcase their achievements while networking with their peers.

The awards are peer-reviewed and judged by a well-regarded and trusted panel.

To enter the awards, visit the website below to register, download the category criteria, follow the criteria and submit an entry. Finally, simply save and confirm your submission.

Nominations and submissions will close on Thursday 30 June 2022.

Click here to submit your entry or nominate a colleague.

For more information about the awards, click here.

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Comment (1)

  • Peter Cokley


    You stated the runway was extended at Gold Coast Airport during the Covid19 period, so after March 2020 when the big Covid aviation shutdowns started in Australia. Do you have more details of that Gold Coast runway extension in Covid19 times, please?

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