Up, Up And Away For AirAsia And Melbourne’s West

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In February 2018, Southeast Asia based airline AirAsia announced the move of its Melbourne operations from Tullamarine to Avalon Airport in the city’s southwest, effective from 5th December.

This groundbreaking initiative not only opens a portal for Victoria’s western districts to connect directly with greater Asia but also positions AirAsia as the first commercial airline to offer international travel from Avalon Airport; a significant development for air travel in Melbourne.

Since superseding Essendon Airport as Melbourne’s only international airport terminal in 1970, Tullamarine has been the default setting for Victorian travellers embarking on international adventures, doing business, or travelling ‘home’ to visit family and friends from overseas.

AirAsia’s bold step in establishing an international terminal at Avalon airport effectively expands passenger choice, offering Victorians – especially those in the west – an alternative, while introducing seamless state-of-the-art amenities and facilities, some of which never previously experienced in Melbourne.

During our conversation, AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail discusses AirAsia’s decision to make such an important shift to Avalon, as well as what this very exciting new development means for travellers in Melbourne’s West.

Avalon Airport CEO Justin Giddings described constructing an international airport terminal in less than 12 months as a “significant task”. How has it progressed over the past year?

Justin’s right – it is a really big challenge. At almost 9,000sqm, the international terminal will house state-of-the-art facilities with the latest innovations in customs equipment and processes, as well as a fantastic choice of Duty Free shopping and some great options for having something to eat or a relaxing drink before boarding your flight. It’s a simple lower cost terminal which is something genuinely new for Melbourne and the state of Victoria.

Why did AirAsia move to Avalon?

More and more countries, including Australia, are beginning to realise the need for a secondary airport, particularly in large cities (Sydney/Melbourne) where demand is greatest.  Avalon is in synch with our business model, providing a great value proposition for travellers, so we believe the time to move is now, and the momentum is only building.

We’re a market leader in air connectivity within ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] countries and, since our early days, we have initiated new routes that were previously unheard of – including between East Malaysia and Peninsular Malaysia – to bring communities closer and boost economic activities. So, this move to Avalon really fits into the broader AirAsia picture.

Earlier this year, our Group CEO, Tony Fernandes, said we started in 2001, with just two planes and 200 Allstars in Malaysia and carried 200,000 guests. Today, we have more than 200 planes, over 20,000 Allstars of 50 different nationalities and half a billion guests, 60% of which were first time flyers. Half a billion guests is no small feat – it is seven times the population of Thailand, 16 times the population of Malaysia and about 80 percent of the entire Asean population (640 million, 2018).

This move is great for consumers, providing a streamlined airport experience and reducing the cost of air travel, enabling more people to fly between Australia and Southeast Asia. Justin has projected figures of 1.3 million passengers per annum through the airport from just AirAsia’s introduction alone. Those numbers are big. 

What routes will be available to choose from at Avalon?

As the first international carrier to fly to Avalon Airport, the twice-daily service is going to provide connections via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to more than 130 destinations across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the US including Bali (Indonesia), Thailand, Japan, India, China, South Korea, Hawaii (United States) and many more.

What are some of the advantages for customers in Melbourne’s West?

There’s going to be a number of ‘Avalon Advantages’ for people who choose to fly internationally with AirAsia. I mentioned already our aim of lower airfares but, on top of that, there’ll be cheaper parking, as well as parking that is also much, much closer to the terminal than it currently is at Tullamarine. It’s not just for Geelong and Melbourne’s west either – central city residents will also find the benefits of Avalon Airport appealing with no Tullamarine freeway tolls and hassle free check in and departures and also SkyBus will provide affordable public transport to meet every AirAsia flight from the CBD as well as the western suburbs.

In fact, a total of 4,500 new Skybus services per year are being introduced as part of a new partnership deal, almost doubling the number of existing services that connect Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station with Werribee and the new Avalon international terminal. Travellers will be able to get to Avalon from the Melbourne CBD, door to door, in 35 minutes for just 20 dollars. And there’s the recent State government announcement of a high-speed rail link to Geelong, which will give Avalon the rail service that Tullamarine lacks.

It’s brand-new, and the infrastructure is all single-level with car parking right out the front – and a hassle-free arrival and departure process, which we know regular travellers are going to really notice and appreciate.

What kind of facilities will be on offer at Avalon for International travellers?

The airport will boast the latest state-of-the-art customs facilities, and a really simple, efficient and comfortable international terminal experience, which we know is what travellers expect these days. Because AirAsia will be the only international airline operating from the new terminal on day one, passengers will be able to get from check-in to the gate in just a matter of minutes, which always helps calm the pre-flight nerves and makes the whole ‘getting there’ experience less of a headache.

How does this translate for business travellers?

Our evening departures out of Avalon and Kuala Lumpur, respectively, are great options for guests travelling for leisure and business because they ensure you arrive in the morning, ready to get into the day or do business.

In terms of in-flight comfort for business travellers, we’re really proud to be the first low-cost carrier in the world to introduce flatbed seats. AirAsia’s Premium Flatbed includes a fully reclinable seat, universal power sockets, adjustable headrest and built-in features like a tray table, drink holder, reading light and privacy screen.

Guests travelling on Premium Flatbed can enjoy things like flight time changes, they get a 40kg baggage allowance, inflight meal, access to inflight entertainment, a dedicated check-in counter, priority boarding, and you can also access AirAsia Premium Red Lounge when departing from KLIA2 at Kuala Lumpur. So, like I said earlier, if you’re travelling for work, these creature comforts and our scheduled arrival times all combine to get you to your destination, ready to hit the ground running, so to speak, and perform at your best.

With the Western metropolitan business community region growing rapidly, what does the move to Avalon mean for local businesses?

Importantly, for AirAsia, we’re an ASEAN carrier, so we’re proud to be able to lay the foundations for new business and trade opportunities for Melbourne’s fast growing West to connect with ASEAN countries, which is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

We also believe that it’s going to help create more jobs for the region. For example, the introduction of Australian cabin crew and overhauling our inflight meals to include more Victorian-sourced and produced foods and drink, so that’s something we’re proud to be doing in terms of the local economy.

From all of this, of course, we’re confident the move’s going to provide a really significant boost to local tourism.

As the Avalon initiative demonstrates, things are definitely looking up for international air travel from Melbourne’s West. Justin says the move “recognises the growth of the west and how far it has come in the last 10 years, which is a really big incentive for airlines to come here.” He talks about even grander plans for more airlines and more destinations and, hopefully in the next couple of years, the opening of an airport hotel.

There has never has there been a better time than now to foster business and personal links to Asia from Victoria’s western regions, and we have AirAsia to thank for it. Watch this airspace.

AirAsia’s first international flights out of Avalon Airport’s new international terminal takes place on 5th December. For more information, visit www.airasia.com 

BOB | Melbourne’s West | More Than Just Business