Essendon Airport airport today celebrated its centenary in subdued fashion thanks to the COVID lockdown currently imposed on metropolitan Melbourne.
An event marking 100 years since the airport was established on 11 August 1921 was delivered on-line this morning, with plans for a large gathering scrapped.
Hosted by TV presenter Nicky Buckley, the centenary event featured comments from Victorian MP for Essendon Danny Pearson, Victorian Minister for Transport Ben Carroll and entertainer Olivia Newton-John, who recounted her own memories of Essendon Airport in it's heyday.
Essendon Fields CEO Brendan Pihan also spoke, outlining contribution the airport has made to the surrounding community and the plans for the future.
"Today marks the actual birthday of Essendon Aerodrome, making it one of the oldest airports in the world," Pihan said. "In 1921 the site was 93 acres of farmland known as St Johns and was originally purchased by the government as land for defence purposes ..."
Over the past 100 years, the airport was developed in lock-step with aviation itself, becoming the major airport for Melbourne and the site for air crew training and aircraft manufacture during WWII. As the international gateway to the city, Essendon was the landing place for Queen Elizabeth in 1954 and all the athletes arriving for the 1956 Olympic Games.
It is also the place widely accepted as the birth of the term "Beatlemania", which was coined to describe the local fans' reaction to The Beatles arriving at Essendon in 1964. The airport served as an international airport between 1950 and 1970, before Tullamarine came into service to accept the heavy jets deemed too large for Essendon.
In the early 2000s, the Federal Government sold off the lease to the airport, which currently is in the hands of the Fox and Beck families. The influx of investment capital saw the development of shopping centres, hotels, business offices and car yards, with aviation activity becoming mainly public service and corporate aircraft, with some flight training still taking place.
"Today Essendon Fields Airport is the home of emergency services," Pihan said. "The air ambulance, police air wing, maritime search and rescue, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the famous Erickson Air Crane helicopters that play such an important role in the state's firefighting effort each summer.
"About one-third of all business jets in Australia are domiciled at Essendon, making it the home of corporate aviation.
"With everything that's been achieved here over the past 100 years, what is most exciting is what's to come. Essendon Fields will remain a vital aviation link for Victoria and a key employment precinct in both aviation and non-aviation businesses.
"About 6000 people work at Essendon Fields today. We expect that number to swell to about 20,000 people over the next 20 years, servicing the expected population growth in Melbourne's north-west."
"Non-aviation jobs are currently around 5500 people and aviation jobs are around 450," Pihan told Australian Flying.
"While the aviation industry is facing challenges, we currently have a major new Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre under construction for Bombardier, the first in Australia, which will provide 50 new permanent jobs early next year.
"Another planned new maintenance hangar as well as other business expansions will see aviation employment grow by 100-200 people in the short term."
Essendon Airport has come under public scrutiny in the past, which loud calls from local activists to have the airfield closed and the land redeveloped. In 2013, the then Coalition government in Victoria voiced its support for Essendon to continue operating, which gave some certainty to aviaiton operators. According to Pihan, the airport has a good relationship with most branches of government.
"Our relationships with government are extremely constructive, as they need to be to make the most of this important precinct, whether it be working with the Federal Government on aviation, environmental planning or delivery matters; the state government on road access and public transport, or council with ways in which we can better integrate the community into Essendon Fields and provide opportunities for social infrastructure.
"We're extremely grateful for the good work that goes on between our organisations."
Essendon Airport currently hosts around 45,000 movements per year, down 15% on the 53,000 recorded in 2017.