It’s been a milestone-fuelled time for Avalon Airport recently. We chat with its CEO, Justin Giddings.
“In the past five months, the airport has grown from 180 to 680 full-time employees.” - Avalon Airport CEO, Justin Giddings
Since opening in December 2018, the $38 million curfew-free international passenger terminal at Avalon Airport – about 20 kilometres from Geelong and 55 kilometres from Melbourne – has operated twice-daily flights between Avalon and Kuala Lumpur through low-cost carrier, AirAsia X.
And by late 2020, the Avalon tarmac is set to get even busier when Vietjet begins flights to Ho Chi Minh City. This is great news for holidaymakers and business travellers keen to head to Vietnam but also good news for Victoria’s 100,000 Vietnamese residents keen to host visiting friends and family from Vietnam.
Both announcements are key wins for the state in terms of job and investment creation, aided in part by a Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund (RJIF) grant.
“The Fund has been outstanding,’’ says Avalon Airport head Justin Giddings, a 46-year-old Geelong born-and-bred local (he currently resides with his family in Lara about 18 kilometres from Geelong’s CBD) who has been in the top job since 2008. “In the past five months alone, the airport has grown from 180 to 680 full-time employees in areas such as AirAsia, Sky Bus, Cotton On warehouse, customs, quarantine, fire, retail and transport personnel, and it’s due to Victorian government support. The public, too, have benefited: we’re the lowest cost airport in Australia by far – maybe even in the world – and the contribution from the government allows us to pass on savings to passengers.”
Indeed, state government support goes back to 2015, when the Victorian Government signed a $12 million deal over 10 years to ensure Jetstar continued to operate at Avalon.
“Avalon Airport offers easy, affordable access to Melbourne, Geelong and the Great Ocean Road and the number of international tourists flying in through our terminal is amazing. They make up about 50 per cent of our overall passengers annually,” says Justin
It’s not just tourists who are entering Australia at Avalon, either. A “large and growing percentage” of tertiary students from Malaysia, China and Vietnam are arriving through Avalon to study at Geelong or Melbourne, according the Justin. “A big segment that we’re getting is the international education area; it was a real surprise. While many fly in to Tullamarine, we provide a lower cost option to the state.”
Then there’s freight, which is giving Geelong producers a chance to sell into Asia. “Each AirAsia flight takes around 10 tonnes of freight to Malaysia, and we have a lot of interest from local producers,” Justin explains. “The issue we’ve got is that demand around a lot of produce is coming from Melbourne, but there’s an opportunity to get Geelong and surrounding region product onto planes such as seafood including abalone, and grapes… showcasing our region’s food to Asia.” As a side note, Bellarine Peninsula’s Jack Rabbit Vineyard wines were introduced to the flight menu across AirAsia X Malaysia services earlier this year, raising the profile of the region’s wineries.
For someone considering moving to Geelong, the perks extend well beyond a strong community, safety and a lack of road congestion, according to Justin. “Many businesses are setting up in Geelong because from Avalon, they can easily fly interstate: to fly to Sydney for business, for instance, it’s easier from Avalon than Tullamarine. In terms of real estate compared to Melbourne, there are cheaper, bigger blocks just 10 minutes from the middle of Geelong city. Also, we have a beautiful waterfront, good university, good TAFE, good private and public hospitals, and there’s a train about every 15 minutes going into Melbourne so it’s an easy commute.”
Five years down the track, Justin expects Avalon Airport domestic routes will grow and new routes will be added to Asia and beyond, with Bali is a strong contender to be offered in the next one to two years. “At the moment, we have about 1.35 million passengers per annum, and I’d hope we’d increase that to three or four million passengers per annum in five years.”
Population growth could help make that reality. With Australian Bureau of Statistics figures predicting Melbourne will nudge out Sydney as Australia's most populated city in 2026 (it’s projected to swell from the current five million to seven million), Avalon Airport is set to become an even more viable alternative to Melbourne Airport, alleviating congestion around Tullamarine.
Projects like Avalon Airport highlight the success of RJIF.
The government is providing an extra $30 million in funding for RJIF as part of the $2.6 billion Delivering for Rural and Regional Victoria Program, focussing on boosting jobs, building infrastructure and strengthening communities around the state.