Despite the announcement that Qantas Airways will close its heavy maintenance facility at Avalon airport, the airport's operator remains optimistic about its future as Melbourne’s second international airport.
Qantas will close the doors on five hangars that have served as its Boeing 747 heavy maintenance facility in March 2014 when it reduces its fleet size and concentrates its heavy maintenance in Brisbane.
Avalon airport chief executive Justin Giddings tells Flightglobal Pro that the loss of a “blue ribbon tenant” is a blow to the airport, especially after it offered significant concessions to keep the facility open.
“We’re obviously very disappointed, but we’re not surprised,” he says.
Giddings adds that it is a much bigger blow to western Victoria, which has already been reeling from Ford’s decision to shut down plants in the region in 2016.
From the outside, it seems as if the Qantas announcement is the latest in a number of setbacks for the privately-run airport, particularly as budget carriers Jetstar and Tigerair have wound back their presence there.
At one time, Jetstar operated a number of flights from Avalon to Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. However, with the entry of Tigerair Australia – then Tiger Airways Australia – into the market in 2007, Jetstar moved a number of flights to Melbourne Tullamarine to better compete with it.
Innovata schedules show that Jetstar now flies four times daily to Sydney and once daily to Brisbane.
Tigerair Australia briefly operated services to Avalon between November 2010 and July 2011, during which it was grounded by the country's Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Although it returned to the skies a few weeks later, the carrier has yet to return to Avalon.
Giddings would not be drawn on the discussions that it is having with domestic carriers, but is upbeat that the airport will soon get its first international services.
In October 2012, the Australian government gave it authorisation to build a 10,000m² (107,000ft²) international terminal. It has since been working with authorities, carriers and stakeholders to work towards getting construction under way.
“I’m quite confident that we’ll see some international operations here, certainly not in the first half of next year, but in the second half of next year, or early the year after,” says Giddings.
That timing may suggest that Singapore Airlines’ budget subsidiary Scoot could be the launch carrier. With its first Boeing 787s due from the second half of 2014, it is understood that the carrier will launch flights to Melbourne – either to Avalon or Tullamarine.
Giddings told Flightglobal Pro previously that Avalon was an advantage for Scoot as it would not directly compete with SIA’s own services to Melbourne Tullamarine airport. Scoot already flies to one secondary airport in Australia – Gold Coast – to avoid competing with SIA’s services from Brisbane.
There may also be more opportunity from a Philippine carrier in the near future. A recent revision of the air services agreement between the Philippines and Australia added in a provision for Philippine carriers to launch a daily service to Avalon.
Cebu Pacific has indicated that Australia is part of its long-haul network plan, and flying to Avalon would put it close to a Filipino diaspora that lives in the suburbs west of Melbourne. Any service from Manila, however, would require rival Philippine Airlines to give up some of its existing entitlements, which would be unlikely.
Importantly, Avalon’s international ambitions have received strong backing from Victoria’s state government. It has already committed to establishing a rail link from downtown Melbourne to the airport, which will be vital to convincing passengers that Avalon is a true alternative to Tullamarine.
While the loss of Qantas is a major setback for the airport, it seems confident that there are better days ahead.