Despite its announcement earlier this week that it would continue operating to Port Vila’s Bauerfield International Airport, Virgin Australia has reassessed the situation and decided to suspend services after all.
The airline operates three times weekly flights between Brisbane and Vanuatu.
“We will suspend services between Brisbane and Vanuatu until we have greater confidence that the runway will be maintained appropriately,” the airline said.
“We will operate a return service between Brisbane and Vanuatu on Saturday 30 January available to guests returning to their port of origin.”
It confirmed it will contact affected passengers, providing them with a range of options which include a full refund, change of destination or full travel credit.
“We will continue to work with authorities in Vanuatu and plan to recommence services between Brisbane and Vanuatu as soon as we are confident that appropriate measures are in place,” Virgin said.
Qantas and Air New Zealand both suspended Vanuatu services on Friday, over concerns about the condition of the runway.
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.
Air NZ usually flies from Auckland to Vanuatu once a week, and codeshares with Air Vanuatu on its twice-weekly flights.
Earlier this week, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV) and Airports Vanuatu Limited (AVL) revealed a raft of measures designed to ensure jet operations can continue at the airport.
Although CAAV director Joseph Niel insisted the suspensions were “precautionary” rather than a declaration that the airport is unsafe, he conceded that work needed to be done.
“It is a 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,” he said.
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,” Vanuatu Tourism Office general manager Linda Kalpoi said.
Image credit: iStock