The foolishness over liquid, aerosol and gel restrictions for international flights has taken the spotlight away from wide open airports such as Avalon, where thousands of passengers are boarding jets with no screening for explosives in checked luggage.

But with luck, this week’s order of long-haul jets by Malaysia-based AirAsiaX might jolt a memo or two from the transport mandarins in Canberra to their Minister, Mark Vaile. AirAsiaX is getting Airbus A330s similar to those already being introduced by Jetstar International, and plans to pack them with around 380 tiny, tiny seats and fly them between Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, London and Avalon, ASAP.

Think thousands of torture tubes at less than $700 return to Stansted or Luton, the major budget airports for London.

Avalon’s transition from paddock to airport is getting faster. It sees 20 landings or takeoffs by 177-seat Jetstar A320s daily, and the Qantas subsidiary has just bought another nine of them. Tiger Airways is coming by December to return the favour of Jetstar Asia setting up shop in Singapore in its turf, and with interest.

And the proposed Virgin Blue “Ultra” tribute brand to Jetstar’s “stuff-them-in-until-it-really-hurts” flights, its already looking at Avalon as a potential alternative to Melbourne’s Tullamarine. Any day now, taxi drivers will be asking passengers who want to go to the airport whether they are departing from “Pleasure” or “Pain”.

At the moment there is no timetable for introducing the screening of checked luggage for explosives or inflammables at Avalon, without which the personal screening of passengers and carry-ons is pointless. All major city international departures have full checked baggage screening (CBS) processes. By the end of July, CBS will extend to all domestic departures at Sydney, Melbourne (Tullamarine), Brisbane, Perth and Canberra.

The next phase of upgrades to CBS status applies to the Cairns, Gold Coast and Darwin airports. Avalon isn’t on the total security map, yet. There are only two processes that matter in airline security: sealing off the cockpits (hopefully without pilots who are terrorist sleepers) and preventing bombs on board getting on board. Without one, the other is useless.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway insists that Avalon meets all the standards Qantas imposes on all of its operations consistent with the security rating of the airport.

The general manager of Avalon airport, Tim Anderson, says there is no checked luggage screening because the Department of Transport department doesn’t require it. But when it does, the airport, owned by Linfox, will be up for a maybe a million dollars on top of a mooted new terminal, and Jetstar and its circling competitors for something less than a dollar extra per checked bag.

All of which will of course be punted to the consumers.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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