Inside Sydney Airport

SBS series takes you into the underbelly of Mascot's city-within-a-city and the faces keeping its operations running smoothly.

If Sydney Airport is a “city within a city” then it makes complete sense for SBS to hook an observational serious around its underbelly.

After all there are cultures intersecting from its arrival halls to its tarmac staff, with any number of spontaneous storylines and dramas colliding daily.

Mascot is home to 900 flights a day from 47 airlines, with 120,000 passengers daily. ITV Studios Australia, which has previously steered SBS’ predilection for trains into Inside Central Station, now turns the cameras onto domestic and international arrivals.

Episode one is underpinned by the airport’s punishing city curfew from 11pm – 6am and the pressure to meet daily demands before the clock ticks over from 10:59pm. It zeroes in on several staffing areas and tells the story from the perspective of airport staff.

From 5am the symphony of movement begins…..

Duty manager George oversees the smooth operations of T1 where thousands of passengers and families meet and farewell before a congaline backdrop of international jets. George is a smartly-dressed chap, not to be confused for Santo Cilauro, who remains calm under pressure and avoids, as best he can, getting “the hippy hippy shakes” from unexpected problems.

Today they include a suspicious looking box and backpack left unattended in a public area and an incoming international passenger from Doha who has been vomiting blood. With time of the essence the St. Johns Ambulance swings into action in readiness for her arrival.

But Integrated Operations Centre Duty Manager Michelle isn’t sure if the passenger will arrive conscious or not. She works before a wall of screens where every inch of the airport is under surveillance, liaising the latest reponse incident with George and his team.

We also meet Nathan who works in domestic screening, the security line between landside and airside. An endless line of nearly 2 million people are scanned every month here. While scissors and knives are typical breaches, some of the more bizarre items include a live rooster. What the? Today there is a live bullet found, requiring AFP to attend. As frustrating as security is, we appreciate you keeping us all safe, Nathan.

Meanwhile out on the tarmac apron, Lead Load Dennis, who is of Philippine heritage, has a challenge to turn around freight on a Boeing 777 in just 75 minutes, but one pelmet is bulging and may not fit. Any delays will have a knock-on effect for both passengers and other flights. In case you forgot, there’s a ticking TV curfew to contend with, and for Dennis a coffee and banana bread to grab in between jobs.

The idea of freight not fitting an airliner hull isn’t exactly the highlight of the episode dramas, and the screentime seems generous considering, but we do meet Ramp Duty Manager Minas, who helps keep things to schedule.

Lastly there is recently-hired Terminal Supervisor Mal, previously a painter & decorator (and former Qantas staffer), who is still learning the ropes under George’s supervision. Having just sorted the Doha passenger, he learns of a possible stroke victim in the arrivals lounge. But as we quickly discover, having a stroke at Sydney Airport is one of the safest places in the city, with a response time down to minutes.

Seriously-narrated by the versatile Brooke Satchwell, the series offers plenty of insight into airport operations. There is some pixellation of public and staff (airport signs alert public to possible cameras and throw the onus on passengers to request not to be filmed in public areas).

Airport factuals are not new, with previous titles highlighting European, American and Asian airports, usually from the perspective of flustered travellers, being placated by agreeable staff. In Australia that’s been largely the domain of the gruff Border Security. SBS takes a more inclusive approach to airport hustle and bustle, with all its cogs and colourful workers humming in harmony… until those days like my luggage getting lost between Melbourne and Sydney. Hey George, I’ve got the hippy hippy shakes!

Inside Sydney Airport 7:30pm Thursday on SBS.

7 Responses

  1. Just seen Sydney airport doco via SBS On Demand – was a very good program. SYdney airport is a great place to fly there. Several years ago, I flew to Sydney and the airport looks magnificent – the airport was laid out perfectly. Sydney is the main gateway to other international destinations from around the world. As well, Ep 1 contains a scene where a passenger onboard a flight from Doha suffered a medical emergency. That passenger was given priority disembarkation.

  2. Love George he is simply the standout for me in episode one …he is a real character…he compared himself to a Formula One driver on pole position, even better he gets his energy from the yang and yang. ..love the fact he takes the job so seriously but has a sense of humour is kind and caring which is not always the case when you encounter those who are there to help at any airport or terminal…I think all the other people do a terrific job in keeping the airport ticking over and I congratulate them all on the dedication they all have to their jobs.

  3. I look forward to seeing this. Sydney Airport is a great place with a lot of history. People travelling for holidays, reunions, pilgrimage, a new life, visiting family and friends. There’s always a great story nearby at Sydney Airport.

    I like that there is another aspect other than Border Security. People would say that the only time you see people who look like me on Australian TV is on Border Security, but it’s not reflective of all passengers through Sydney Airport. I like that the media has a more friendlier appearance at the airport now.

    It would be nice to see them go to Brisbane, Melbourne and other airports as well.

    Other airport related shows that could do well would be shows focusing on reunions, or the popular live streamers getting a free-to-air timeslot for live aircraft footage. It’s so innovative that it could do surprisingly well.

    1. If David had not pointed out Denis’s heritage… I would not have known because he was around the Air New Zealand area….my son in law is Māori and most of his friends are Pacific Islanders and to be honest I’ve got the Samosas, Tongans and the Cook Islands heritage’s mixed up, I’ve even mixed up my daughters Thai friends with her Philippine workmates and I’ve traveled to all the those places as well….I don’t see a problem mentioning anyone’s heritage.

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