Flight mode activated. A new era for Essendon Fields Airport

Promoted by Essendon Fields Airport | May 28, 2024

Essendon Fields Airport turns 103 this year, and its unique position and proximity to Melbourne continue to shape its future.

Essendon Fields Airport turns 103 this year, with the airport committed and prepared for its next century of operations. As the closest airport to Melbourne CBD, today Essendon Fields’ two runways welcome a mix of International and Domestic corporate aircraft, emergency services operations, light domestic freight and charters.

All of this activity in the air is complemented by two on-site refuellers, aviation training, and a growing base of maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities on the ground.

It’s this unique position and proximity to Melbourne that has informed the airport’s past and is shaping its future.

The site was formally gazetted in 1921, and “Essendon Aerodrome”, as it was known in the early days, became a base for Australia’s rapidly growing civil aviation industry and, later, defence operations during World War II.

Its history as Melbourne’s first airport is well-storied, heralding arrivals by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Beatles, until a major turning point in 1970 when the “new” Melbourne Airport opened and all international passenger services transferred to Tullamarine, followed by domestic services the year after.

Following decades of relative inactivity, the Commonwealth Government sold its management rights for the airport in 2001 on a long-term lease. A major investment program over the twenty years since privatisation has returned Essendon Fields to an important driver of economic activity for Melbourne’s northwest, and throughout the change, aviation has remained at the heart of Essendon Fields.

This year, there will be approximately 50,000 aircraft movements, primarily attributed to emergency services operations, flights coming in for private charter, maintenance and servicing, and RPT movements. Essendon Fields’ proximity to both Melbourne Airport and Melbourne CBD means the airport is well-positioned to service these segments of general aviation, which have become a growing area of focus.

Indeed, over a third of flights made are by emergency services operations. With everything from Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria to aeromedical movements and search and rescue activity, Essendon Fields is the proud home base for Victoria’s emergency service air wings.

With aviation as the central hub of the century-old precinct, Essendon Fields continues to invest in its historic hangars and buildings, alongside the delivery of new facilities. The multi-million-dollar, three-stage revamp of the Essendon Fields Airport Terminal building is an example of just that, and its success can be measured by the demand for tenancy leasing in the newly completed facility.

Sharp Airlines is a cornerstone operator at Essendon Fields, and the newly updated Terminal building has provided them the space to operate a fleet of Metro liners servicing Australia’s Southern States.

“Sharp Airlines commenced operation 34 years ago with just one aircraft in Victoria that was based in Hamilton, and then around 20 years ago at Essendon Fields. Today, we own 17 Metro liner aircraft and have operations in five states, employing over 100 staff,” said CEO of Sharp Airlines, Alistair Dorward.

“Essendon Fields is a great location to be based for RPT and charter work. The ease of car parking, no security hold-ups for passengers and great passenger facilities make the experience very convenient and hassle-free,” said Mr Dorward.

Other aviation tenants in the newly refurbished Terminal include Leidos Airborne Solutions Australia, which uses it to base and maintain the most advanced civil search-and-rescue aircraft for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) – Bombardier Challenger SAR jets. In total, 36 people are employed at the base, performing search-and-rescue operations over land and sea.

Paul McLaughlin, Leidos Airborne Solutions Australia Base Manager at Essendon Fields, said the new facility has improved functionality and workflow and provided faster access to their jets.

“We needed more space for search-and-rescue stores, training and our crew. This move to a new space has been completed to such a high building standard and is far more comfortable for the crews and supports the flow of activity,” said Mr McLaughlin.

“We also love the new space because it has direct airside access from our operations and briefing room to the aircraft, which is only 30 meters away. Especially important when time is critical.”

At its heart Essendon Fields is a community which encourages tenants to engage and build on the success of each other. Managing Director of Avionics 2000, Michael Kus, started his company back in 1988 after observing a need for avionics support on-site, following a stint with the Victoria Police Air Wing, also based at the airport. What started small has now grown to a team of 30 based in Hangar 6.

Mr Kus said Essendon Fields remains the perfect base for the company.

“With its central location, Essendon Fields is a great choice for a business like ours. The area has grown hugely over the years, becoming a hub not only for aviation businesses but many other industries,” he said.

Like Avionics, many other on-site businesses in the MRO space contribute to the airport ecosystem; Bombardier opened their first Australian service centre in the recently completed Hangar 82, Textron services Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft on-site, as do Execujet – a part of the Dassault Group. With so many rotary wing aircraft in operation at Essendon Fields, Italian aerospace specialists Leonardo have also set up base in one of the newer Hart hangars, supplying and servicing helicopters used by the emergency services.

It’s the location and ease of accessibility that are often cited by tenants and aviation users as key points of difference. Situated adjacent to both the Tullamarine and Calder Freeways and just 11 kilometres northwest of Melbourne’s CBD, the attraction for corporate jet operators is obvious. Passengers can organise private transport directly to their FBO, followed by swift departure without competing for landing and take-off spots with commercial aircraft. This efficiency has made Essendon Fields the home of more corporate jet aircraft than any other airport in Australia.

Shortstop Jet Charter is one of Essendon Fields Airport’s oldest tenants and is a testament to the airport’s strong standing in the corporate jet market. Established in the early eighties, Shortstop Jets’ founder, Mike Falls Snr, began his business managing and operating various light aircraft on behalf of his customers.

“We received our first jet in 1984 and have been flying business jets ever since. We think it may make us the longest continuously operating jet charter company in Australia’, said Mike.

‘We’ve continued since then with a variety of aircraft (currently Citation and Falcon) utilised for business and personal air charter. Usage has been on a steady upward incline over the past few years, which is great to see. Business flights, in particular, have been very active, together with the personal travel requirements of overseas visitors coming to Australia for holidays or events,” he said.

Essendon Fields Airport CEO Brendan Pihan recently summed up its commitment to aviation.

“Essendon Fields Airport contributes to a safe, efficient, sustainable aviation sector in Australia. Organisations like our Emergency Services Air Wings, and business jet operators and maintenance repair and overhaul facilities understand that what we have here is unique, and together we’ve made a long-term investment to ensure we continue to service the needs of these customers well into the future,” said Mr Pihan.

Following the recent terminal upgrade and new hangar investment, Essendon Fields’ plans include the development of new aviation facilities, ongoing maintenance and numerous other precinct initiatives for improved access and amenities. Aviation businesses or operators with aircraft they’d like to base on site are encouraged to get in touch with the airport team to explore the opportunities.

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