Skip to Content

An innovative partnership between Newcastle Airport and the University of Newcastle has seen students working in a ‘living laboratory’ at the Airport on ways to solve problems with the baggage handling system and better service the growing number of passengers.

The establishment of the living laboratory at Newcastle Airport is part of the University’s ambition to be a world leader in the field of aviation and aerospace. A ‘living laboratory’ gathers academics, students, industry, and community partners to create new knowledge to address today’s and tomorrow’s challenges in the region. At the same time, it helps the University to provide its students with an excellent student experience while they can develop practical skills to be career-ready. 

The Living Laboratory concept also aligns with Newcastle Airport’s goals of being an active and progressive member of the Hunter community and working to become the airport the region deserves. 

This semester, the topic for the living laboratory was a future baggage handling system for Newcastle Airport.

“Accurateness and quality of the baggage handling process is crucial for an excellent passenger experience and therefore very important for an airport,” says Gabriel Lodewijks, Professor of Aerospace Systems with the University of Newcastle

The expectation is that the passenger throughput at Newcastle airport will increase to 2.6 million by 2036 and to 5.6 million by 2076. The study aimed to deliver a holistic view on options for Newcastle Airport to develop and expand the baggage handling system in an efficient, environmentally friendly and space sensitive manner.

On the 2nd of June 2023, the final report with observations and recommendations of the study was published. The results of the study show that large parts of the current system are fit for duty in the future, and made recommendations about considering new technology such as adding radio frequency ID chips to baggage tags to find further efficiencies for the system.

One of the University of Newcastle students involved in the project, Josh Price, says it was a great opportunity that gave him really valuable experience in dealing with real-world problems. 

“As an engineering student, we focus a lot on the mathematics. This project gave us the opportunity to analyse problems, come up with a solution, and then convey that to others in real world language, not an equation,” Josh said.

During the 12 month project, Josh worked directly with baggage handlers and other airport staff to learn from them what the pinch points were and what could be improved. 

“I really want to thank Professor Lodewijks from the University and Paul McFarlane from Newcastle Airport for the time and support they gave us, and the fantastic opportunity. Not a lot of Uni students can say they’ve spent 12 months of their degree working in a real business on real problems,” Josh said.

Paul McFarlane, head of Airport and Customer Experience at Newcastle Airport, said it was a really great experience and the students were really keen to get their hands dirty. 

“It was really uplifting for me to benefit from the energy and ideas of the students.

“They really got stuck in, and spent time along the entire chain, working alongside our operations staff and baggage handlers to really understand what was going on, and figure out ideas for improvement collaboratively.” 

Executive General Manager of Aviation with Newcastle Airport, Shane de Wit, welcomed the insights of the student’s work. 

“We’re always looking for ways we can do things better, improve passenger experience, and reduce the carbon footprint of Newcastle Airport,” Mr de Wit said. 

“It’s great to know that our current systems are fit for the future, and we’ll certainly be looking into the improvements identified by the living laboratory project.

“The research is very timely to ensure that we can implement the best possible baggage handling system in our new terminal expansion currently under construction.”

The terminal expansion at Newcastle Airport is expected to be completed in 2024. 

The Living Lab program at Newcastle Airport continues with a new cohort this semester and will look at the freight opportunity in the region.  


Newcastle Airport

Newcastle Airport is the gateway to Australia’s largest regional economy, with more than $43 billion annual output and 48,500 businesses. Jointly owned by City of Newcastle and Port Stephens Council, we are governed by an independent, skills-based Board of Directors.

Back to top