Melbourne’s Second Airport’s First International Flight Takes Off

Melbourne’s primary and best known airport is called Melbourne Tullamarine (MEL), and it’s located 23 kms/14 miles north of the Melbourne CBD. It’s a great airport in that all of the terminals are connected under one roof, so you can easily transit between international and domestic flights, rather than having to take a train or bus like some other airports, even within Australia.

It is definitely easier to transfer terminals at Melbourne than Sydney or Brisbane.

The airport operates two runways and also operates 24/7, unlike Sydney, which has a strict curfew.

For many years, a secondary airport in Melbourne has been operating, called Melbourne Avalon. It is located west of Melbourne, much further from the CBD than Tullamarine, being 55 kms/34 miles from the CBD.

Melbourne’s two airports (with Sydney, shown for scale)

While it is called Melbourne Avalon Airport, it is geographically much closer to Geelong than Melbourne.

Geelong is Victoria’s second biggest city (behind Melbourne), though it is only a fraction of the size population-wise.

Some Victorians (myself included) consider Avalon to be Geelong’s local airport, and not Melbourne’s secondary airport. But the airport owners (a private transport company) have named the airport Melbourne Avalon and have been working hard to attract airlines.

The airport commenced domestic operations in 2004 under its current owners with Jetstar (a low cost subsidiary of Qantas) operating limited routes. In 2010, Tigerair also announced it would commence operations, and based two aircraft there. The Tigerair operations were unsuccessful and lasted only around one year.

Both airlines operate substantial operations at Melbourne Tullamarine airport.

Avalon floundered for many years with Jetstar only operating a couple of domestic flights each day. While Geelong residents loved the convenience of having a tiny airport so close to home, for Melbourne residents such as myself at the time, I wouldn’t dream of booking a flight to or from Avalon because of the sheer distance it was located both from home, and from the CBD.

It’s worth noting that neither airport had a rail link to the city, so it can be a time consuming process to get to either airport, especially during peak hours. But Avalon is a lot further from Melbourne than Tullamarine. While there were bus services to Avalon for each flight, they would arrive extremely early to the airport, which would be frustrating if you had already checked in and were travelling Hand Luggage Only.

I did wonder if Avalon airport would close given how few flights it received. Earlier this year, following substantial government funding, it managed to secure its first international carrier and flights, with Air Asia X moving their double daily Kuala Lumpur services from Tullamarine to Avalon.

I suspect there were enormous subsidies given to Air Asia X by the airport operators to move their services to Avalon.

A substantial freight terminal has also been built to help these international flights.

This week, the first international flights from Melbourne Avalon to Kuala Lumpur took off.

Jetstar has also increased domestic services from the airport, now having numerous daily flights to Adelaide, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

I’m interested to know which other international airlines Avalon is trying to entice to either move their services from Tullamarine, or introduce new services to Melbourne (Avalon). Given the low landing fees I imagine other Asian low cost carriers would be a natural fit — Malindo Air already flies from Tullamarine to Denapsar Bali and Kuala Lumpur, Cebu Pacific to Manila, and Scoot flies to Singapore.

Though the airport is less convenient than Tullamarine for most Melbourne travellers, those very price sensitive passengers may be willing to use a less convenient airport in exchange for lower fares, as low cost airlines in Europe and the US have achieved.

Bottom line

There is more need for a second airport in Sydney than Melbourne, and a second airport in Melbourne would be ideally located in the southeast, which has a big population but is a long way from either existing Melbourne airport.

It has been interesting to see Avalon’s rise and fall (and now rise). For many years, especially around 2011-2014, I thought it would probably close because there were not enough flights to justify its existence.

Jetstar could either move or introduce some international services to Avalon given they already have domestic operations there, although their arrangement with Qantas at Tullamarine is fairly complicated and I suspect they are wary of forcing any lucrative Qantas passengers to Avalon, where only Jetstar operates a particular route.

As someone who spent seven years living in Melbourne I used Tullamarine more times than I can remember, but avoided Avalon. I do wish they would be more honest with their location and change the name to Geelong Avalon Airport, or Geelong International Airport, but I can understand how important it would be in trying to attract flights and airlines to be seen as Melbourne’s second airport, rather than a regional Victorian airport.

There is already a rail service that goes close to Avalon and there has been discussion for years about adding light rail to connect this to Avalon airport, but nothing has been built yet.

Would you use Melbourne Avalon airport instead of Tullamarine for the right price?

Comments

  1. Tried to use Avalon after a trip down the Great Ocean Road to get to Sydney as next stop on my travels. Unfortunately the inbound Jetstar flight couldn’t land after 4 attempts due to wind sheer. Ended up diverting to Tullamarine, and we were eventually bused over. It seemed a pretty quiet terminal (domestic), but with an ok cafe.

  2. Not sure how big the subsidies are, Air AsiaX is carrying out a threat it made to ditch Tullamarine if Tulla didn’t drop its fees.

    The other thing working in Avalon’s favour now vs when it opened is the massive gowth in places like Altoona meadows, hoppers crossing, Caroline springs and the whole of wets Melbourne. Lots of new housing new families and lots of them with Asian backgrounds. This may end up being a smart move for Air Asia X.

  3. @ John — that was news to me! I thought I knew all the airlines at MEL. Sure enough they’ve just started flights a few months ago.

    Post updated. Cheers.

  4. Imma be real honest here and say that I have used this airport, but only because my friend accidentally booked our flights out of it instead of MEL.

    Both the Uber driver and I were quite unimpressed with the mistake, especially given the $5 AUD price difference $80 AUD cab ride. But it did allow me to make fun of her prodigiously for it.

  5. Until I visited Melbourne I was starting to think there was an Australian law that domestic and international terminals needed to be miles apart. Syndey is the most absurd charging for a train ride between terminals.

    I love the flying experience out of Australian domestic terminals, though, kind of what Americans are nostalgic for 30 years ago in gentility, though probably never really was in the US.

  6. I have an international flight connecting in Sydney to Brisbane. Nothing on the ticket or anything else from Qantas indicates that there is an intenational-domestic terminal transfer train required. When you fly BA through LHR-GAT they clearly indicate a terminal change at my cost (well since 1990’s (before that was free)).

    Thanks for the heads up. Perhaps flying J it will be included ;-(

  7. I’m back in Melbourne for a few months (UK/NL-based) and cannot believe the state of MEL airport, it’s a total mess, at breaking point, and needs a complete re-think.

    Meanwhile, discussing with locals, we are hoping/predicting that AVV will emerge as a proper second airport for Melbourne. A dedicated rail link and increased infrastructure will be needed but watch this space! I really hope this happens as Melbourne will need it in the future. (I also hope that there isn’t the same airline/domestic-international divide between terminals as there is elsewhere here).

  8. I thought Jetstar was already operating direct international flights to Queenstown (ZQN), New Zealand from Avalon.

  9. Thanks for the update James! Great article. It’s always good to see another international option for getting to Melbs. I had considered flying from Avalon because I thought the parking might be cheaper. But parking is actually about the same price as Tullamarine despite being in the middle of nowhere.

    Bear in mind that this airport doesn’t have any lounges either.

  10. @James there are some advantages to using Avalon that you didn’t mention in your article. Firstly as there aren’t many flights using the airport everyday, there is never any wait to land or take-off. Second there is never a long queue or wait to get through security. Thirdly unlike Tullamarine, driving to Avalon is toll free, and the drive time at certain times of the day is probably the same as to Tullamarine anyway.

    @SH simple solution, don’t read the article if it is of no interest to you!

  11. Drive times to Avalon and Tullamarine can be quite similar and I can park right in front of the terminal in Avalon for the price of long term parking in MEL. And have a way shorter walk.
    It doesn’t have any shopping though.

  12. Great article, James – nice to see some variety of topics on here! Never used Avalon but totally agree re location – for friends in Mornington it’s a massive hike round just to get to MEL – even outside the EK free transfer zone, they have to pay extra! Also a shame there’s no train service. SkyBus is fine but very vulnerable to traffic impact.

  13. Is MEL closer to the centre of Melbourne than AVV because you hardly mentioned it so it’s hard to tell.

  14. Ivan – where is your sense of humour?

    It was mentioned – unnecessarily in my view – several times in the article as some implied criticism. Once as a statement of fact is fine but not when the same point was made ad nauseam

  15. Flew domestically out of Avalon, and the price difference was quite substatial, but not substantial enough to attract those who arent penny pinching like me.

    Anyway, the Skybus was convenient.. I just boarded a later bus that would have me at the airport 40 minutes before my flight, but surprise surprise, the bus took longer than advertised even with minimal traffic.

    But i like the airport though—reminded me of kuala lumpur’s old low cost terminal.. barebones but gets the job quickly. I was in the plane 5 minutes upon arriving at the door.

    Would definitely fly off it again.

  16. When I read the title, I thought the article was about the real 2nd airport in Melbourne and that is Essendon.

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