The Future of Airport Security in a Post-Pandemic World
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes to air travel. The closure of international and domestic borders here in Australia led to travel restrictions that have affected our freedom of movement like never before. Quick to adapt, Australian airports stepped up with a raft of measures to meet the health and security challenges posed by this new normal.
The Sydney Northern beaches cluster just before Christmas served as a stark reminder of how volatile the situation remains and how quickly things can change. So, what measures have been implemented at Australian airports to ensure a safe and secure passenger experience?
We asked Scott Dullard, Head of Aviation Operations and Security at Melbourne Airport and Gary Bowden, Head of Security Policy and Compliance, Brisbane Airport for some insights.
Scott Dullard, Melbourne Airport:
“Firstly, COVID has changed our operations. Passenger numbers are much lower and more dynamic on a day to day basis, so our staffing and lane opening plans continue to evolve and change with the environment.”
With security screening a touchpoint that all passengers must travel through, stringent measures have been implemented at both airports:
“The staff all wear PPE, the equipment and trays are sanitised after each use, there are sanitation stations throughout the airport, and there is signage for physical distancing requirements to remind passengers how to be COVID-safe. We have staff stationed throughout the terminals, to ensure travellers understand the importance of COVID-safe practices and adhere to them.”
“Lastly, we are participants in the Victorian Government COVID surveillance testing program. This means our staff are tested regularly on a proactive basis to ensure they don’t have COVID-19.”
Gary Bowden, Brisbane Airport:
“In relation to security screening, floor decals and physical distancing, signage is in place within passenger queuing areas. We’ve limited contact between staff and passengers, enhanced cleaning measures, sanitisation stations, self-service disinfectant wipes for passengers, as well as moving to the implementation of long-lasting surface disinfectant solutions on security screening trays.”
“The long-lasting surface disinfectant creates an antimicrobial coating that inhibits the growth of microbes on the tray, providing a continuous level of protection on what is a high-frequency touchpoint for staff and passengers. We’re expecting to have more to share in this space very soon.”
Protecting other airport users from ‘at risk’ arrivals has resulted in fundamental changes at both airports:
“The international terminal is physically split in half to protect passengers from “safe countries” such as New Zealand and those arriving from the red zone. Our red zone flights are bussed from airside, eliminating risks associated with travellers being in public areas of the airport.”
“Melbourne Airport has also worked with DHHS to set up pop-up COVID testing sites to make it easy to be tested on arrival back in Victoria.”
“A range of measures have been applied to minimise the current health security challenges including, domestic inbound law enforcement and health agency checking stations, the re-establishment of international arrival processes to cater for mandatory quarantine processing of passengers and more recently the establishment of red/green zone arrival areas to facilitate a one-way travel bubble with New Zealand.”
So, have all these changes fundamentally changed the face of airport security for good?
“Border restrictions based on health security measures have impacted all of society and increased our focus on providing a safe airport travel environment for passengers, airport workers and the general public.”
“We have amended some processes, where appropriate, to reduce close contact interactions without any adverse impact on the security outcome. An example of this, is the changes to the Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) process. Across the country, we have stopped doing any batch testing (multiple people at one time) and no longer reuse swabs, even the ones designed to be multi-use.”
“Security in Australia is already on a journey of change with the introduction of CT X-Rays and body scanners. Our Terminal 4 screening point, which is used by domestic carriers, is a great example of the screening points of the near future. The layout and technology position us as one of the world leaders regarding technology and process in airports.”
“An increased presence of law enforcement and border agency groups at airports in the response to COVID-19 has also resulted in a higher perception of security to airport environments, possibly adding to the passenger experience in that regard.”
“The ongoing application of new screening technology is helping minimise inherent health risks by reducing bag divestments and direct, close interactions with passengers (an example of this being the new CT X-rays and body scanner technologies).”
So how can expect the future of airport security to look?
“We have all learnt a lot about hygiene and staying safe from infectious diseases. I expect there will be some measures that remain in place but at this point, it is too early to understand what level.”
“As for security challenges, the uncertainty of 2021 is the biggest challenge for us. We will continue to plan and prepare for the return of passengers and have our core focus areas at the front of everything we do. Security outcomes, passenger experience, efficient operations and of course ensuring we are COVID safe.”
“It is unlikely that the need for physical distancing, face masks and hygiene practices at both airports and on aircraft are something that will disappear in the near future.”
“There is a range of measures under broad consideration and discussion including travel vaccination passports, COVID testing pre/post-travel, re-routing to a point-to-point travel pattern, the expansion of the Trans-Tasman bubble, trial and implementation of long-term disinfectant and antibacterial solutions throughout the airport, as well as airport health accreditation schemes.”
Even as we see a gradual return to pre-pandemic travel, many changes are likely here to stay. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact that large-scale movement of people can have on the spread of infectious disease. As passengers begin regaining confidence in international travel and borders reopen, aviation security will continue to play a crucial role in ensuring a safe and secure passenger experience.
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