Darwin Airport Moves International Arrival Processing To Its Terminal

Darwin Airport has made changes to the way it handles inbound international arrivals. The joint military and commercial airport was temporarily processing international arrivals at a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) facility. Now, with changes made to the airport’s civilian passenger terminal, the airport can once again safely process passengers there.

Darwin International Airport’s civilian passenger terminal. Photo: John Holland Group

Safe separation of passengers at Darwin’s passenger terminal

Like international arrivals at other airports in Australia, passengers arriving at Darwin Airport are health screened and bundled straight into 14-day quarantine. For security and health reasons, that had temporarily been happening away from the passenger terminal. Domestic and international passengers share the single terminal at Darwin Airport.

Now, physical changes to the airport’s passenger terminal means Darwin Airport can safely separate arriving passengers going into quarantine and other passengers using the terminal. All health, security, and baggage screening of repatriation passengers will now be done in a restricted area on the ground floor of the passenger terminal.

“The area is now secure and separate, providing a controlled area for processing of repatriation passengers by appropriate local and federal agencies,” says Darwin Airport’s Rob Porter.

“In moving the processing of repatriation passengers to the DIA (passenger) terminal, we have not compromised the safety of other users or our community.”

The layout of the ground floor at Darwin Airport’s passenger terminal. Source: Darwin Airport

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Repatriation flights are now the bulk of international flights at Darwin

In 2019, its last normal year of operations, Darwin Airport handled 1,792 international flights and 238,837 passengers. In addition to services to everyday ports like Singapore and Denpasar, Darwin is one of the few cities offering a direct link to Dili, Timor Leste. Darwin Airport was also known for its somewhat oddball twice-weekly Donghai Airlines flights to Shenzhen.

A steady series of repatriation flights and some short-lived Olympic charters from Tokyo are now the only international passenger traffic Darwin sees.

A major quarantine facility just south of the city has seen Darwin Airport shape up as a favored destination for repatriation flights. Most recently, after departing Darwin for London on July 31, a Qantas 787-9 repatriation flight (registration VH-ZNK) landed back in Darwin on Wednesday morning with approximately 180 passengers onboard.

The 2,000-bed quarantine facility at Howard Springs, around 16 miles (26 kilometers) south of the airport, is also temporarily housing Olympians back from Tokyo. According to the ABC, some 100 Olympians arrived on a Qantas charter on Tuesday. Another flight from Tokyo is expected early next week.

Darwin Airport’s arrivals zone for repatriation & quarantine flights. Source: Darwin Airport

Changes see Darwin Airport able to handle more passengers

Usually, the northern end of Darwin Airport’s passenger terminal handles international flights. The airport has spent a considerable sum to create a more secure buffer and sterile zone between its everyday domestic operations and international repatriation flights.

That means new walls to keep the two passenger groups separated. There are also separate air conditioning systems for domestic and international passengers. Diagrams provided by Darwin Airport show a single entry point into the international arrivals area. Passengers are funnelled through immigration, health screening, baggage claim, and baggage checks before exiting to board buses for the ride to Howard Springs.

The changes at Darwin Airport mean they can safely process an additional 250-300 passengers per week. While that might be welcome news for the tens of thousands of Australians still stranded abroad, available beds at Howard Springs could prevent Darwin Airport from maximizing its capabilities.

Darwin Airport began processing international arrivals through its passenger terminal again earlier this week.