Vanuatu reels as airlines suspend services

Vanuatu reels as airlines suspend services

A “concerted effort” is underway to resolve any issues with the runway at Port Vila’s Bauerfield International Airport in Vanuatu as a number of airlines suspended services due to safety concerns, placing the country’s tourism industry in jeopardy.

Qantas and Air New Zealand both suspended Vanuatu services on Friday, over concerns about the condition of the runway. However, Air Vanuatu is still operating, as is Virgin Australia.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson confirmed that a full review had been conducted at the airport over the weekend by a team of its safety experts.

“Following this review, we have concluded that currently our aircraft can continue to safely operate in and out of Port Vila,” they said.

“We are working with authorities in Vanuatu to ensure the condition of the runway remains safe at all times and will continue to work closely with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.”

The airline confirmed it is monitoring the condition of the runway and committed to ceasing operations if it finds that the runway is no longer suitable.

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV) and Airports Vanuatu Limited (AVL) revealing a raft of measures designed to ensure jet operations can continue at the airport.

“Air New Zealand’s decision to suspend services to Port Vila was based on an internal risk assessment carried out by the airline itself and was more of a precautionary action rather than to declare Bauerfield as being unsafe,” CAAV director Joseph Niel said.

“However, it is fact that the runway is urgently due a resurfacing or repair and this was further exacerbated by the effects of the recent Tropical Cyclone Pam.”

A number of “extra precautions” have been put in place until permanent repairs begin. These include the daily ‘sweeping’ of the runway, regular inspections before and after take-off plus new obstacle and runway surveys. In addition, 200m of runway at the end of runway 11 has been marked for urgent repair.

“In the interest of all tourism operators in Vanuatu, there will be a concerted effort to make sure any issues are addressed as soon as possible so that Air New Zealand resumes and the effect on tourism is minimised,” Vanuatu Tourism Office general manager Linda Kalpoi said.

While Qantas does not fly its own aircraft to Vanuatu, it has suspended its codeshare with Air Vanuatu on its six times weekly services between Sydney and Port Vila, and its twice weekly services between Brisbane and Port Vila which are operated by B737 aircraft.

“Due to concerns over the condition of the runway at Port Vila International Airport in Vanuatu, Qantas is suspending its codeshare agreement with Air Vanuatu effective immediately,” it said.

The airline apologised for an inconvenience caused and advised customers that they are eligible to claim a full refund, change their destination or obtain a credit to fly at a later date or to book a new ticket with Air Vanuatu.

Air NZ usually flies from Auckland to Vanuatu once a week, and codeshares with Air Vanuatu on its twice-weekly flights.

Flight operations general manager Stephen Hunt says the condition of the runway at Port Vila International Airport has been gradually deteriorating.

“We have taken the difficult decision to suspend services before the situation becomes unsafe,” he said.

Air New Zealand will run one more return service between Auckland and Vanuatu on Sunday to repatriate customers, supported by additional safety measures.

Technical experts are being sent to Port Vila to oversee the Sunday flights.

Customer care spokeswoman Debbie McKeown says although the move is an inconvenience to customers, safety comes first.

“Unfortunately we will only be able to carry customers who are completing a return journey on Sunday’s flights,” she said.

“We will make contact with customers who’ve booked directly with Air New Zealand to explain their options.”

Customers who booked through a travel agent should make contact with their travel arranger.

All customers will have the option of changing their booking to another Pacific or Tasman destination or receiving a full refund.

Friday’s announcement affects Air New Zealand and codeshare Air Vanuatu flights.

Image credit: iStock

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