Melbourne, Victoria, Australia - August 4, 2016 : Departure terminal of Melbourne (avalon) Airport, Melbourne, Australia on Aust 4, 2016. A small airport serving the airline JetStar.

By Stephanie Nestor, Assistant Editor, Infrastructure Magazine

The Commonwealth Games are coming to Victoria in 2026, with preparations underway to deliver the infrastructure required to host the grand sporting event. But while stadiums and accommodation are vital, the aviation sector is just as essential to ensuring interstate and international visitors can access the iconic event.

Australia has hosted the Commonwealth Games five times, with Victoria 2026 set to be the sixth time. Each time, the Games has attracted hundreds and thousands of visitors and injected millions of dollars into the Australian economy.

In 2018, the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane attracted almost 7,000 athletes and team officials from over 70 Commonwealth nations and territories. 1.5 billion people watched the Games worldwide, while over 100,000 visitors made their way to the Gold Coast to watch the Games in person.

Victoria last hosted the Games in Melbourne in 2006, with over 150,000 visitors and 8,000 athletes and team officials visiting the city.

The Games in 2026 are sure to bring just as many, or more, visitors and officials – which makes it a great opportunity to expand Victoria’s airports.

Building a multi-city sporting hub

Through the adoption of a multi-city model, the 2026 Commonwealth Games are not being held in one city, but rather across different parts of Victoria, with regional cities and towns holding key events. There will be four regional hubs – Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Gipplsand – to host athletes, officials and visitors, each with their own athlete villages and arenas.

The Games bring huge economic benefits for whichever city or state holds them. For example, in Melbourne, the Commonwealth Games contributed $1.6 billion and 13,600 jobs to the state. To maximise these economic benefits, reliable transport systems that can handle a surge in overseas and interstate visitors need to be established, which means upgrading regional airports.

Most of Victoria’s regional airports are typically used for flight training, cargo handling, small passenger flights or private use. With the announcement of the Commonwealth Games, regional cities have made plans to include airport upgrades as part of their preparations for the event.

Modernising regional airports

As Victoria’s largest regional city, Geelong will be an epicentre for the Games, as it will host seven events including the aquatics (swimming, para swimming and diving), beach volleyball, gymnastics, hockey, triathlon and para triathlon, T20 cricket matches, table tennis and para table tennis.

The City of Greater Geelong is investing significantly in transportation, including aviation, to provide reliable and regular services for spectators. Part of this investment includes building a new rail station at Avalon Airport and developing a 100ha commercial precinct.

With almost a million passengers a year passing through the airport, these long-term upgrades will ensure Avalon Airport can meet the demands of the Games and the future.

Meanwhile, the City of Greater Bendigo has similar plans for the city’s airport. Bendigo Airport is already set up for regular passenger services, including direct interstate flights, but the Games offer a chance to attract more people to fly through Bendigo to experience regional Victoria.

Bendigo will be hosting six sporting events, including lawn bowls and para lawn bowls, table tennis and para table tennis, netball and squash. After receiving $9 million in funding from the Victorian Government since 2017, the City of Greater Bendigo has committed to upgrading its airport in time for the Commonwealth Games.

The upgrade will see a modernised terminal capable of handling more domestic interstate flights. There are already flights from Bendigo to Sydney and other parts of the country, but a terminal with new facilities and technology will allow for more passengers to pass through the airport.

But for smaller airports, upgrades will not just be about meeting the increasing demands during the Games, but about preparing airports to provide extra services long after the athletes have left Victoria.

Extending Ballarat airport

At Ballarat Airport, early works have begun to extend the runway from 1.3km to 1.8km, which will accommodate more flights for the regional airport. These works are being jointly funded by the City of Ballarat and the Federal Government as part of the Regional Airports Program.

The City of Ballarat has advocated for this extension for years, and with the Commonwealth Games around the corner, now is the best time. This extension is part of a larger three-stage upgrade, outlined in the Ballarat Airport Masterplan 2013-33, which aims to stimulate economic growth in the region and improve aviation transport connections.

The upgrade will mean that more business, emergency and passenger services can come through the airport. Further works include shifting primary airport access, strengthening the runway to provide capacity for larger aircraft, building a new taxiway and upgrading the terminal.

The masterplan states that most of the region’s aviation growth will be driven by increasing demand for regular passenger transport.

With priorities focusing around boosting commercial aviation and tourism, the Commonwealth Games presents a great opportunity to extend and modernise the airport.

As Ballarat is set to host athletics and para athletics, boxing and T20 cricket events during the Games, the airport will see direct domestic passenger flights for athletes and visitors, bringing much needed economic growth for the area.

City of Ballarat Mayor, Des Hudson, said the upgrades will offer existing businesses new opportunities while also attracting new aviation opportunities.

“The Ballarat Airport has a strong history as a facility that has adapted to the needs of the community over the years, having been originally constructed in 1940 as a training base for the Royal Australian Air Force Base at the outset of the Second World War,” Mayor Hudson said.

“The Ballarat Airport is a significant aviation facility servicing Western Victoria which will be enhanced to support diversified aviation growth and provide benefits for the community and economy.

“The extension of the runway is the first stage upgrade which will ultimately allow for larger commercial freight aircraft, large firefighting and emergency services aircraft and increase opportunities to attract new aviation businesses to the airport.”

Countdown to the games

With a few years before the Games arrive in Victoria, it’s clear regional cities see this worldwide event as an opportunity for the aviation sector. The Games present an opportunity to showcase regional Victoria to international visitors, which will be supported through these airport upgrades.

While these spectators will only stay for a few weeks while the Games are on, these upgrades will ensure Victoria’s regional airports can adapt to support Australia’s growing aviation sector, population and tourism industry.

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