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Given the demand for international travel will be slow to build up, airports have time to plan the reorganisation of their spaces and assets to restore consumer confidence in air travel

New report advises airport design changes to help sector recovery

A new report from international engineering, design and advisory company Aurecon has modelled how airport design could change, based on the 70–100 different areas of the passenger journey that will potentially be adjusted or introduced in response to Covid-19.

The report, titled ‘Departing from Covid-19: flight path to recovery and reform of the aviation sector’, provides industry insights and recommendations on smart design and adaptive planning to help airports plan for the return of international travel by restoring consumer confidence.

Since airline travel dramatically reduced overnight following border closures in March 2020, international routes from Australia and New Zealand are not expected to fully reopen for a number of months. 

Brett Reiss, Aurecon aviation industry leader, Australia and New Zealand, says that airports should be taking action now to plan the significant changes that will need to be undertaken, including changes to the physical layout of the airport and aircraft, reordering traffic flow to account for increased security and screening procedures, capacity calculations, contactless operations, and baggage handling processes.

“Currently, airports have adopted similar guidelines to supermarkets and pharmacies, with floor stickers to encourage social distancing and free hand sanitiser, but more sophisticated reconfigurations will be required,” Mr Reiss asserts.

“Additional regulations may be imposed on airports to conduct Covid-19 testing and screening. To prepare for this and to restore consumer confidence, airports need to start thinking now about the significant changes that will have to take place for airport entry, passenger flows, permanent floor markings, baggage processing, Covid-19 screening pathways, the use of touchless technology and the additional operational staff that may be required.”

Priority areas for consideration

The report outlines the following as priority areas for airports’ consideration.


Modifications will be required to physical infrastructure and operating procedures, including the addition of testing stations, installation of routes to segregate passengers, and more wayfinding signage inside and outside terminal buildings. In addition, airports will need a system for reigniting the commercial potential of terminals to benefit retail businesses and passengers.

To handle increased health screening, airports are recommended to consider more automated check-in areas, installation of contactless procedures, spreading peak demand, increased queuing zones, increased numbers of processing desks, and limiting terminal entry to travellers only.  

Contactless processing

Covid-19 has accelerated passenger expectations for contactless end-to-end traveller journeys, including check-in, bag drop, security, customs, bathroom facilities and boarding. Automating as many passenger processes as possible will be favoured by most airports.

Human behaviour

It is expected that it will be necessary for passengers to obtain health approvals prior to travel, possibly entrenched through bilateral health agreements between countries. Airports and airlines will have to collaborate to convince travellers that the risk of infection on a flight will be low due to improved cleaning efforts, sophisticated cabin ventilation systems and adequate screening, before and after boarding.

A gradual build-up in demand

Aurecon aviation capability leader Erik Kriel says many airports already have the space and assets available to set up the physical infrastructure to conduct passenger health and administrative checks, as well as practise social distancing.

“Considerations will still need to be taken from a design perspective to develop a layout that protects passengers and adequately provides health checks, yet doesn’t make airports seem like a clinical hospital to passengers,” Mr Kriel says.

“Given the industry predictions that it will be a slow, gradual build-up in demand for international travel, we believe many airports could plan the reorganisation of their spaces and assets to transition through the recovery period without needing to significantly expand their building space,” he adds.

“Aviation has been challenged by turbulent conditions many times before. With the sector’s exceptional capacity to recover and adapt, learning from the Covid-19 crisis will help prepare for future global disruptions and help aviation emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient.”

The ‘Departing from Covid-19’ report is available here: www.aurecongroup.com/thinking/thinking-papers/covid-19-aviation-sector-reform


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