AIR-CON: Retrofit rules

By: Amie Hickland

A small bus business has chosen to retrofit air-conditioning units instead of buying new buses

AIR-CON: Retrofit rules
This solid, reliable bus has benefited from a bit of air-conditioning

Air-conditioning is not something which immediately comes to mind when you think of buses, but in the Australian heat it becomes one of the more important if forgotten, components to make travel comfortable.

As a result, smaller businesses are choosing to retro-fit air-conditioning units into older, otherwise usable buses, as opposed to buying a new vehicle altogether.

Based in Biloela, a rural central Queensland town with a hot subtropical climate, Valley Coaches is one of those family-owned businesses which recently chose to retro-fit an air-conditioning unit into one of its vehicles.

The business, operated by John and Helen Dionysius, runs a fleet of five buses which are mainly used for contracted school bus runs.

They also specialise in school charter, senior tours and various other charter tours throughout the region.

Dionysius says they chose to retro-fit an air-conditioning unit into a 57 seat Custom Coach earlier this year.

He says the bus was acquired 18 months ago as part of a local school bus run purchase, but will also be used for general charter.

"In keeping with our commitment to ongoing upgrades and passenger comfort, we needed this bus to be air-conditioned or else dispose of it and purchase a replacement," Dionysius says.

"Apart from having no air-conditioning, it was a good solid reliable bus, so the decision was made to retro-fit new air-conditioning."

Dionysius says he contacted air-conditioning specialist Lewis Arakelian, of Lou-Air Australia, and chose to use the units after also obtaining quotes from other suppliers.

"A notable feature of this Lou-Air unit is the quick cool down time of the cabin space when it is initially switched on. This is a great benefit when returning to a closed up coach," Dionysius says.

He says the control panel is also very simple and user friendly.

"We are confident we have purchased a reliable and cost effective unit that will stand up to our harsh central Queensland climate and road conditions."

Dionysius says they had obtained other quotes for brand name units but these were much more expensive and unsuitable for the bus.

And choosing Lou-Air Australia meant bringing in one of the Australian air-conditioning industry’s best known identities — Arakelian, who Dionysius describes as "the best man for the job under the circumstances."

"We were very impressed with Lewis’ extensive history and experience with bus air-conditioning and product knowledge," Dionysius says.

When the bus was complete, Arakelian was able to explain what he had done and went through the full workings and features of the unit.

Arakelian says the business is continually "flat out" — although this is more with servicing, as opposed to fitting completely new units.

"We’re really not selling much. Most of the units come with the buses," he explains.

"We’re busy doing services."

Arakelian says the majority of new vehicles brought into the country already have air-conditioning units fitted.

He says the difficulty comes with the lack of ongoing support from the manufacturer which means other businesses, like his, are left trying to fix them.

The majority of manufacturers, in Arakelian’s experience, don’t provide spare parts to fix the buses if necessary.

"In three years’ time, there’ll be all sorts of problems," he explains.

He says the choice Valley Coaches made was much more cost efficient, with the retro-fit costing tens of thousands as opposed to hundreds of thousands for a brand new vehicle.

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