Thinking

Departing from COVID-19 – A flight path to recovery and reform of the aviation sector

Published: 21 July 2020

By leveraging the collective experience and expertise of Aurecon’s Aviation teams in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, we have collated a series of ideas for airports to transition from pandemic to recovery and reform, minimising the impact on passenger capacity while continuing to improve passenger comfort and confidence. This model for the future terminal is Aurecon International.

Executive summary

It wasn’t long ago that airports were diverse and lively businesses. From packed check-in desks, to well-stocked retail concessions and queues at the departure gates.

As the world was hit by COVID-19, airline travel reduced dramatically almost overnight with international routes not expected to fully reopen for at least another 12 months. The progression and recovery for airports from COVID-19 will occur in stages.

Airports and airlines have a joint mission to reignite international travel and restore passenger confidence – encouraging them back to travel and making them safe.

This will require changes to the physical layout of the airport and aircraft, as well as the operational processes of booking and checking in, of navigating through screening and security.

Depending on airport specifics, some industry experts have calculated that between 70 and 100 different areas in the passenger journey are expected to either change or be introduced from scratch, to restore confidence in flying.

What is the Aurecon International model?

Welcome to the airport terminal of the future!

Aurecon has modelled a gradual, flexible and incremental evolution of the eventual reopening of international travel in the Australian airport context. This includes the setting up of systems and processes to keep passengers and staff safe. 

There is an opportunity to bring a completely new experience to the passenger and become an airport that reshapes its post COVID-19 business as user-centric.

Watch the video below or download the white paper.



Key observations

The progression and recovery for airports from COVID-19 will occur in stages. This white paper is focused on Stages 2, 3 and 4 in Figure 1, outlining recommendations for reform of the aviation sector in the following sections:

Figure 1: the stages of transition through and out of COVID-19

The progression and recovery for airports from COVID-19 will occur in stages. This white paper is focused on Stages 2, 3 and 4. The progression and recovery for airports from COVID-19 will occur in stages. This white paper is focused on Stages 2, 3 and 4.

Key points

  • At each stage, airports need to be adaptable and flexible, to respond quickly to public health advice, passenger needs and international safe-zone routes.
  • International travel could lag domestic travel return by up to two years. This will depend on the industry’s ability to quickly accommodate the safe facilitation of travellers through airports and on aircraft.
  • Recovery will require unprecedented changes to the end-to-end passenger journey, across three categories; Principal I: Setting up operational systems and physical infrastructure to keep passengers and staff safe, Principal II: Contactless systems for check-in, security, customs, airport facilities and aircraft, Principal III: Human behaviour – we will have to learn how to travel again in the post COVID-19 world.

Pathway to ‘new normal’

Airports will need strategies for their layout and operations to transition through the staged reopening of international travel.

‘New normal’ for Australian airports is the introduction of measures that make passengers feel comfortable and safe. That airports can provide assurity to governments that passengers can be detected and traced, and that the health and control systems can cope.

Key points

  • If airports and airlines present a united front and propose end-to-end passenger journey solutions at airports, governments are more likely to reopen international borders.
  • Physical layout changes to adhere to social distancing and health screening requirements should be empathetically designed with the passenger in mind. Airports may be able to reorganise their physical spaces to transition through the recovery period without needing to significantly expand their building envelope.
  • An airport’s concept of operations (ConOps) will be vital for efficient operation in a coronavirus-constrained world.

Modifications to service

We need to plot a robust recovery and reform pathway to reignite international travel.

From an airport asset perspective, planning these changes needs to start now.

Figure 2: airport considerations to handle increased health screening

Airport considerations to handle increased health screening Airport considerations to handle increased health screening

Key points

  • Planning operational and physical layout changes needs to start now, to be ready for passengers when international borders reopen.
  • Passengers will need to become acquainted with new check-in, security and customs procedures, and accept health and screening processes.
  • There is an opportunity to bring a completely new experience to the passenger and become an airport that reshapes its post COVID-19 business as passenger-centric.
  • Airports should create a Digital Twin of terminal buildings. Digital scenario planning helps to better understand operational constraints, and passenger movements and experiences.
  • Contactless processes will have their day. This includes check-in, bag drop, security, customs and boarding. The use of autonomous equipment, such as cleaning robots, is likely to be introduced.

Considerations for recovery

Insights in our white paper provide a layered approach of ideas for airports and airlines to safeguard public health, while offering a practical approach for a gradual restarting of operations.

This is key to restoring passenger confidence so that the benefits of safely reigniting international travel can be realised.

Reigniting international travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how interconnected the world is and how susceptible we are to disruption on a global scale.

Deliberate, yet urgent decision-making will position airports to transition out of COVID-19 and into the ‘new normal’ stage. This will take collaboration between airports, airlines, industry and governments to reignite international travel and open Australian airports. We hope it will be a long-term trend that benefits passengers and the whole industry.


About the authors

Brett Reiss, Aviation Industry Leader, leads Aurecon’s Australia & New Zealand aviation team where he specialises in the management and development of privatised airports. Brett has led the master planning of numerous Australia airports, and has undertaken extensive land use, airfield and terminal planning exercises for airports in Australia and New Zealand. Brett was previously General Manager Commercial Services for Northern Territory Airports.

Erik Kriel, Aviation Capability Leader at Aurecon, has more than two decades of experience as an airport development planner and strategist, including terminal design, airport master planning, concept designs, capital expenditure planning and airline consultation. He has led consultancy teams in Australia, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Previously, Erik headed Airport Planning for the Airports Company South Africa. He has worked at some of the largest hub airports in the world, including Dubai and Hong Kong as well as some of the most economically sensitive such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Prior to his current role at Aurecon where he manages the company’s technical aviation capability across Australia & New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East, he was Aviation Lead Consultant on several Australian airport planning projects.


This paper is part of a collection of insights and expertise from Aurecon as it explores leading through and beyond the COVID-19 disruption. Explore our insights here.

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