Airlines suspend flights to Vanuatu over runway

Airlines Qantas and Air New Zealand have suspended flights to Vanuatu amid concerns the runway at the Port Vila airport is unsafe.

Vanuatu airport

Vanuatu airport Image by Philip Capper / CC BY 2.0

Air New Zealand halted flights immediately, making one final trip from Port Vila to Auckland on Sunday to repatriate travellers holidaying on the island. As part of its code-sharing ageement with Air New Zealand, Qantas will no longer sell flights from Sydney and Brisbane to Port Vila. Customers who have already booked their flights to Vanuatu can choose to receive a full refund or credit, and can re-book their tickets through Air Vanuatu, who will continue to fly in and out of the island’s only airport.

Virgin Australia will also continue to service the island, despite the state of the runway, saying their Boeing 737-800 aircraft can navigate the runway safely. "We continue to monitor the condition of the runway and Virgin Australia will immediately cease all operations between Australia and Port Vila if we are not convinced that the runway is suitable for ongoing operations," a statement released by the airline said.

The 2800m asphalt runway, which was damaged when Cyclone Pam devastated the island during March of last year, has been the subject of political bickering on the island nation for years. Bryan Death, chairman of the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association, told Australia’s ABC that the World Bank had offered a loan of $85 million to upgrade the airport, but that the project had been hampered by political interference.

The decision by Air New Zealand and Qantas to suspend flights is likely to have a negative impact on Vanuatu’s economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism.

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