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With fewer flights, vaccinations take off at Auckland Airport

Domestic flight numbers have fallen by nearly 90 per cent, with only a handful of arrivals and departures each day, but Auckland Airport operations haven’t skipped a beat at Alert Level 4.

On Friday, just five domestic flights will take off from Auckland Airport, compared to 143 the same day two weeks ago.

With domestic travel restricted during Alert Level 4, many aircraft are flying freight only, with Jetstar having suspended its domestic flights until at least midnight on Friday 27 of August, and its Auckland services cancelled until August 31 inclusive. International travel passenger volumes for the month to date are down to six per cent of pre-COVID levels.

“Regardless of flight volumes, our essential workers are still busy at work ensuring the continued safe operations of the airfield and terminals, and also assisting government health workers with a drive-through vaccination site,” says Anna Cassels-Brown, general manager operations at Auckland Airport.

A busy drive-through vaccination centre, the largest in New Zealand, was established in just a few days under Alert Level 4 settings at Auckland Airport’s Park & Ride facility.

Initially aimed at vaccinating essential workers, more than 10,000 people have been vaccinated at the site run by the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre. Auckland Airport not only provided the 40,000m2 site, normally holding up to 2500 cars, it has assisted with traffic management support, security, and parking staff.

“We’ve had staff who would normally work in customer-facing jobs in The Mall click-and-collect operation, don hi vis and PPE and help manage the smooth running of the vaccination site. It’s a real credit to the resilience of our staff that they can quickly and easily step into completely different roles to support the Government’s vaccination drive,” says Anna.

“While some staff can work from home, our essential operational staff are still to coming into the airport to work. We’ve had to make some adjustments to further reduce the risk of virus transmission including bubbles within work bubbles, with people on the same shift spread across several locations to ensure business continuity resilience.

“A great example of this is our Airport Emergency Service, which act as first responders on the airport precinct, who have split into separate stations – one operating to cover airfield emergencies and the other exclusively focused on “landside” call outs.”

Alongside the usual PPE and social distancing requirements, additional protections are in place including pre-shift temperature checks, “sneeze guards” between staff in stationary roles, and a ban on “non-bubble” visitors to critical operational areas.

“Out on the airfield, the lack of flights does make it a more attractive location for local birds so there is no let up on the monitoring activity of our wildlife team. And with several airlines choosing to ground aircraft, we’ve needed to find temporary parking locations around the aprons and taxiways.

“This has been made a bit trickier with a couple of projects to renew airfield pavements and fuel pipelines underway, creating some fairly large construction sites. It’s really a giant game of Tetris to ensure all this activity can happen safely,” says Anna.

“All of this is possible because of the planning we’ve put in over the past 20 months. The first time we were in Alert Level 4 we were learning as we went. Now we just pull the plan off the shelf and set it in action.”

Action at Auckland Airport during Alert Level 4:

  • Four airfield inspections a day covering 100km on just the core inspections
  • 200+ AES staff temperature checks
  • More than 780 breathing apparatus checks and 160 vehicle and equipment inspections by AES staff
  • More than 1400km driven during security patrols of the airport precinct
  • 38 bathroom and 21 hand sanitiser audits a day
  • Work-from-home contact centre had its busiest day for phone calls since August 2020 lockdown on the first day of the alert level change.
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