Flying high

Justin Giddings Picture: Georgina Capper

It’s a glamorous job – but someone has to do it. ELISSA FRIDAY meets some of the people behind Avalon Airport and its chief tenant, Jetstar.

Justin Giddings, Avalon Airport chief executive officer
“Airports are exciting places.
When people are flying out, they’re normally happy, often visiting families or holidaying, so it’s a good environment to be in. There can also be pressure because we work to very tight schedules.
I live in Lara and it takes 15 minutes to drive to work at Avalon Airport. There’s just one set of traffic lights and rarely do I get caught, but if I get stuck at the level crossing going through Lara, it could add five minutes to my journey.
It’s my ninth year now at Avalon Airport. I became CEO in December 2008 and before that I worked at Essendon airport as a commercial manager. Before Essendon, I was working at Avalon Airport as an aircraft maintenance engineer.
On an average day, I arrive in the office anywhere between 8am and 9am, I look at our figures, load factors and get an idea of what is happening in that regard. Normally I have meetings starting at 10am, ranging from suppliers to airlines to consultants and meetings with other members of staff. So, every day is really different.
I travel to Melbourne two or three times a week and I’m out a lot at night at a lot of functions representing Avalon. We do a lot of sponsorships and advertising and marketing. Sponsorships are probably the main thing, sponsoring a lot of sporting groups and different events and that’s a key element of the way we market the airport.
We try and position ourselves as a friendly and family-orientated airport, and therefore we look at events and clubs which are consistent with those values.
Today I’ve had a board meeting in Melbourne. I’ll have some lunch and then drive back down to Avalon. Then I have a meeting scheduled with Shell Aviation, later on I’ll be doing paperwork and tonight’ I’ll be going to the Cats match – we’ve got a staff management-team function at the footy!
The most memorable moment in my whole career, would be announcing to the staff that we secured Jetstar on a long-term agreement to operate to Avalon. The worst memorable moment was getting a phone call from Qantas informing me they were pulling their heavy maintenance operations out of Avalon.
One of the good things about my job is that I get to travel a lot and I’m going overseas in two weeks. I also get to spend a lot of time with senior members of government and it’s a pleasure them being so supportive.“

Jeremy Smith, Avalon Airport retail catering manager
“Working at the airport really is great.
I manage the operation, but it’s the team that make it a success.
The airport has really taken on the cafe as its own now. Before that it was managed by an outside company.
Opening and operating day on 14 December 2009 was a memorable time, because the brand-new kitchen facility opened up with the bar and before that it wasn’t a dedicated bar facility.
I live in Lara and it’s fantastic that it takes me approximately 10 minutes to drive to work. I relocated to Avalon Airport from working at Brisbane Airport. Since back in 1998 I’ve worked in different levels of management in the hospitality and retail sector, in both domestic and international terminals. I’ve worked across Brisbane the Gold Coast and Alice Springs.
So, I start operations at 6.30am to 7am and the team starts at 4am. We’ll have seven flights to service for the day. All of our sandwiches we prepare fresh for the day and we will serve every departing flight. We have also recently opened a cafe at the check-in area, enabling us to reach customers prior to the security area, those just dropping off friends or family. There’s also 40 minutes’ free parking available, which is handy.
My day finishes between 4.30pm to 5pm, if I’m not picking up my daughter around 3pm, and the cafe team will continue to operate until 8.30pm or 9pm.
Avalon Airport is definitely different to larger airports; it’s more fun and challenging. Volume fixes everything. It’s great, with the wonderful team working with us, we find ourselves in different customer service situations on a daily basis.
We like to decorate and theme the bar here for various occasions, and when the Geelong Cats are playing up in Sydney, we find a big influx of passengers coming into the cafe and bar.
Here at the cafe we’ve recently installed wi-fi, power points and USB charging facilities at our benches.
Being a small airport, customers are automatically at ease; there’s no overwhelming rush, they’re relaxed and they always have positive things to say about the terminal.
We also have a very unique circumstance here at Avalon, being the same venue as the Avalon International Air Show. We were fortunate enough to do some catering for the international clients for the first time this year. It was interesting challenging, fun and very rewarding for my team, which helped prepare the meals and took them out to the international aircraft. We were even able to go aboard an RAAF plane to deliver their catering requirements.
During my time here the airport itself has always been striving to expand and they have their master plan in place for expansion.“

Nicole Evans, Avalon Airport aviation assistant
“Working at Avalon’s great. We’ve got a small team here and its convenient being only 10 minutes from my home in Lara.
Before I came to Avalon, I worked in sports administration for just under 10 years. I’ve been working at Avalon since October 2012, so coming up to five years now.
The best part of my job is the diversity of my role. It’s an operational and administrative role. I do all the administration for access control into the airport and also I do the vehicle driver’s licences, for anyone who drives airside.
My job entails recording all of the aeronautical flight movements at the airport. It’s an accounts receivable role essentially. I listen to the flight recording between air traffic control and the pilots and determine what landings they’ve done. I listen to the recordings based on what the aircraft has done and then I invoice the operators for landing fees. I listen to the recordings after the flight and can listen to them at any time.
Day to day I don’t have a need to go to the terminal in my role, we are in a separate building.
My job is very flexible, I’m also a mum, I have two children and I work part-time, 9am to 3pm typically two days a week.
A highlight for me is the Avalon Air Show and I’ve become a bit of a plane nerd having developed an interest in planes.
Also, since I’ve started here at Avalon Airport, general aviation, freight and the flights have increased, there are now seven flights a day.
Whenever I can, I fly out of Avalon. I choose to because it is so convenient being so close to my home and it’s just a short walk from the car park in to the terminal.“

Jessica Mazza, Jetstar customer service officer
“I really like working here at Avalon Airport because we’re like a family-based airport. Everyone looks out for each other here, we spend Christmas, Easter and birthdays all together here, and it’s like your second family. Its great hearing different customers’ travel stories.
I live in North Geelong and it only takes me about 20 minutes to get here, which is really good in comparison to travelling to Tullamarine. I can’t complain.
I’ve been at Avalon for two years now and it feels like it’s gone so quickly. Every day is always something new.
I’ve been working with Jetstar for almost five years now, and for the first three years I was at Tullamarine Airport, which is larger. It’s still family based there but not quite as much as Avalon. It’s a bit more relaxed here – we all know everything about each other. I love coming in to work every day.
When I started here, we only had the Sydney flight. We’ve had three destinations introduced here in the last three years: the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Hobart.
My job is on a rotating roster, so you never get the same days off. The first flight opens at 4am, so that’s the start of our first shift, and the latest shift is 4pm until about 11.35pm. If we get delays we can stay longer.
Everyone goes above and beyond here and they are willing to stay back and help each other.
Usually I’m on morning shifts, so I get up about 2.30am to get here for my shift at 4am. Our morning starts at 4am checking-in customers and getting them ready to board their flight. Generally at that time it’s our Sydney flight. Once everyone is checked in we all go down to the boarding gate where we have someone marshal outside, to ensure all of our customers are safe when entering onto the tarmac to get to the aircraft. Also to ensure there are no hazardous items in the way and that everyone is following the correct path.
We then have someone at the boarding gate to make sure all customers have correct boarding passes. If we have any non-able-bodied customers we organise them to be priority and so we arrange with our ramp staff to get them on board first.
I remember when I had a voucher that the company had given to all the staff members to give to someone, to help them with their next flight. I gave the $50 voucher to an 80-year-old lady, who was so sweet. She was probably my favourite of many experiences I’ve had here. I think it’s really cool the company does that.“

Harrison Springfield, Jetstar cabin crew
“I love working at Avalon, I think it makes the whole experience easy, how travel should be.
Just being able to pull up 10 minutes before I sign on and walk from the car park straight to the crew room takes 30 seconds. It’s just an easy experience working out of Avalon, and I know everyone I work with.
I moved down to Avalon in January 2017, so I haven’t been here very long, but I love it down here. Everything at Avalon is a lot easier and it’s a lot less stressful. You don’t have to park your car and catch a bus to the terminal and being a small team here we all know each other.
I work about three shifts a week out of Avalon and I also work out of Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. I prefer late shifts – I can’t function in the morning – so I sign on at 3pm every day. Then we have cabin crew brief to talk about safety, the loads of passengers we are taking and any situations that may come up during the day. Then we also have a brief with the tech crew, who are the pilots and first officers, about weather conditions and what to expect on our trip.
There are four cabin crew members per flight, a cabin manager and three cabin crew staff, so it’s a really small team to be stuck at 35,000 feet with for the day. I love to work with my team, they are so diverse and there’s no-one I’d rather be stuck with at 35,000 feet.
So, out of Avalon, I fly with passengers to Sydney and to the Gold Coast every day. It’s a fairly long day, we go to Sydney then from Sydney to the Gold Coast then we come back to Sydney, then back to Avalon. Then I sign-off around midnight.
During school holidays, especially with destinations like the Gold Coast, we often have a full flight of 180 passengers on board. Sometimes we have some celebrities on our flights, especially when we fly to Maroochydore. I get to meet so many different customers, such a broad range of people every day.“

Kieran Donovan, safety and security head of operations
“Every day’s different here at the airport, so it’s a very rewarding job.
In terms of what we do at Avalon, operationally we are a very capable airport and we work well together in a small team.
I’ve been working here nearly four years.
I live in Southbank, so it takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes to get to Avalon.
My job is the day-to-day operations of the airport. Making sure passengers and aircraft and freight gets to where it needs to be in the safest and most efficient and secure manner.
No days are the same. I’m on call effectively 24/7. My day starts at 7am then I carry on with tasks for the day and any carried over from the day before, including compliance work and liaising with regulators, aviation safety regulators and liaising with police and emergency services. As well as, liaising with Jetstar regarding any operational issues that have arisen and liaising with air traffic control. I normally I get home around 7pm in the evening.
A memorable moment in my job is one of the biggest projects that we have undertaken here at Avalon which is the runway overlay. It cost more than $10 million and we did that on night shifts in 2016. It took us approximately eight weeks, six nights a week. It was a fantastic project and it’s a very rare opportunity that you get to lead a project of that nature and scale.
My first air show was in 2015 and we co-ordinated the airport function of the air show, which meant that we had to maintain business as usual in and among the ongoing air show, which is quite a challenge.
My aircraft team is also responsible for aircraft fuelling. We check that the correct amount of fuel is delivered to any aircraft which requires it. The operations team start at 4.30am and finishes at midnight, that’s over two shifts.
Everyone performs multiple roles, and we are a highly capable team and I’m continually impressed with the people who I work with.
I absolutely love my job. It’s the complexity and the highly dynamic nature of the role and it can change in a heartbeat.“