AKL Update: Adapting airport operations to meet New Zealand’s needs

10 September 2021

As COVID-19 sent much of the world into lockdown, the virus quickly pushed Auckland Airport in new and challenging directions.

“The world changed overnight and we had no choice but to change with it,” said Anna Cassels-Brown, General Manager Operations. “Safety and security always comes first for us. We recognised early on that we would need to make big changes inside the international terminal in order to safely reconnect families and bring international travellers home,” Anna said.

“Well ahead of travel bubbles with Australia and the Cook Islands we were working closely with government border and health agencies, airline partners, ground handlers, cleaning companies and transport operators to rethink the future of travel at Auckland Airport,” Anna said.

The team envisaged a bold solution: the development of two separate and virtually self-sufficient international terminals contained within one existing building, including constructing a brand-new arrivals processing area out of a ground-floor international zone previously used for bus operations.

Putting customer care first

Auckland Airport’s Operations Performance Delivery Manager Mark Wilson, who jointly led the project, said teams prioritised travellers’ comfort and health and safety while rethinking every detail: how to reorganise the layout inside the terminal to prevent high-risk travellers from interacting with low-risk travellers; providing access to food and drink to high-risk travellers transiting through New Zealand; supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff; what to do with baggage; and how to manage physical distancing.

“We always work closely with our stakeholders, but this was just next level,” Mark said. “We repeatedly trialled the terminal split putting 14 flight arrivals through the new process to ensure we got it right. We were on a mission to get this set up and working well for New Zealand and everyone brought that sense of pride to the project.”

The split terminal went live on 16 April this year, just ahead of the trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel arrangements being put into place.

“To witness all of those family reunions at the quarantine-free arrivals gate, after so many months of hard work and planning: it was a wonderful moment for the entire airport team,” Mark said. “It’s disappointing to see the pause in the bubble but we’re hopeful it won’t be long before we see travel kickstart again with Australia.”

Today the eastern side of the international terminal building, including the food court and retail area, forms Zone A: Safe Travel Area and is used by quarantine-free arrivals and all departures. Passengers do not mingle with those arriving from high-risk countries, and their experience of the terminal is very similar to what travellers were familiar with pre-COVID-19.

A second self-contained zone on the international terminal’s western side forms Zone B: Health Management Area, a separate, enclosed airport arrivals processing area, with passengers processed by border agencies before being taken to their managed isolation facilities. Auckland Airport has ensured the care and comfort of transit passengers in Zone B, providing them with access to food and essential supplies, and customer welfare checks.

Craig Chitty, New Zealand Customs Service Manager Passenger Operations at Auckland Airport, said: “The challenges faced by border sector agencies, Auckland Airport, and the wider aviation industry was unprecedented. I have never been involved in such an effective working relationship with public and private sector groups before.

“The expertise and ideas each party could bring to the table quickly established a working model that could easily adapt to changing needs. What it demonstrated to me was that with good people and good communication you can achieve amazing outcomes”.