In a cloud of tyre smoke, budget Asian airline Viva Macau touched down on its inaugural flight to Melbourne today to add to what's expected to be the busiest day ever at Melbourne Airport.
Viva Macau is the 26th international airline to service Melbourne Airport, the second new airline to start operating here this week after Qatar launched its five-star flights last Sunday.
Despite the global financial crisis, it's a growth spurt for Melbourne Airport, which 18 months ago had just 21 international airlines flying to and from Victoria's capital.
Bookended by (locally hired) dazzling showgirls wearing little more than feathers and sequins, Viva Macau's chief executive Reg Macdonald said he would have started Melbourne services sooner if he'd known demand would be as strong as it is, with December flights already booked out.
Viva Macau will fly direct twice weekly Melbourne-Macau, a former Portuguese colony on the south east coast of China. It's renown for its casinos (hence the showgirls) — including a new casino just launched by the Packer empire.
Dr Macdonald said he was in discussions to cross promote his airline with both of Packer's casinos.
"There's a natural affinity there," he said. "To have footholds in both markets is unique.
"We're talking a lot more [with Crown] about what we can do in both directions," he said.
But you needn't be a high roller to fly Viva Macau.
Economy class return flights cost from just $339 return, while business costs from $699 return.
For economy class passengers, it's a no-frills service with pay-as-you-eat meals and three inflight movies a flight on Boeing 767s that are on average about 15 years old.
Melbourne Airport chief executive Chris Woodruff said today more than 18,000 passengers were expected to arrive or depart on international flights, a record which he expects to break by Christmas as the holiday season gears up.
The airport last week opened a $108 million expansion of its international departures concourse to cope with increasing passenger traffic.
"Talk about just in time delivery," Mr Woodruff quipped.