26 Jan 2016

Some airlines to continue to fly into Port Vila

8:54 pm on 26 January 2016

Solomon Airlines has announced it will continue to fly in and out of the international airport at Port Vila as normal.

Air strip at Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila

Air strip at Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Air New Zealand has stopped flying to Bauerfield because of concerns over the state of the runway although Virgin, Air Vanuatu and Fiji Airways say they will continue to operate.

Solomon Airlines' Gus Kraus says the airline has conducted a review of the runway and concluded conditions were safe for its Airbus A320 to fly in and out..

He says the airline will continue to monitor the situation and has urged the authorities in Port Vila to take the necessary steps to upgrade the runway.

"We are working very closely with our Melanesian aviation colleagues and codeshare partner Air Vanuatu in Port Vila and have also received information from the Director of Civil Aviation in Vila that gives us some comfort in our decision although we will continue to monitor the situation and act on any changed circumstances."

The chairman of the Hotel and Resorts Association in Vanuatu Bryan Death says Air New Zealand's suspension of flights into the country is a blow for tourism because of the negative publicity it has created.

But Mr Death says the impact is minimal because it is not yet the high season and Air New Zealand is only running one flight a week.

He says operators have been receiving cancellations but they are advising tourists to rebook on other airlines which are still operating.

He says the aviation authorities in Vanuatu are working hard to make the runway safe.

Mr Death says he understands it could take at least another two months for an immediate fix to the runway and a full overlay completed this year.

"If we can get the works done that need to be done to get Air New Zealand back up here to sign off on the runway and we can do that while there's only the one flight a week process happening then we can mitigate the damage."

Mr Death says Air New Zealand's promotions and hot pricing have helped to push the New Zealand market share up to about 18 percent of total visitors to Vanuatu.

World Bank Vanuatu runway deal still in pipeline

Last year, the Bank announced a concessional loan of $US59.5 million dollars for the upgrade of Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila but the deal stalled.

However a World Bank deal is understood to still be on the table.

Mr Death says a team from the World Bank will be in the capital within days.

"We're putting a lot of pressure on. We have had communication from the World Bank. They'll be flying a team in over the coming week and I'm sure that that offer that's on the table will be renegotiated and we're very hopeful that that will lead to the full overlay of the runway, to be completed this year."

Tighter measures on runway safety for Vanuatu's Bauerfield

Civil Aviation Authority involvement is expected to boost new measures to ensure the safety of Vanuatu's main international airport runway.

The acting general manager of the Pacific Aviation Safety Office, Robert McLellan, says that to maintain its certification, Airports Vanuatu would be operating under much closer surveillance under the Civil Aviation Authority.

"And they will be required to have much higher degree of inspections of the runway, noting and repairing any small parts so that they don't become unsafe, and that sweeping, if there has been cracking or erosion of the surface and that there are any lose bits of debris, that those are constantly being removed so that there's not being ingested by aircraft."

Virgin Australia, Gold Coast.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

'No warning'

Vanuatu Civil Aviation Authority says it had no warning about Air New Zealand's decision to suspend flights to Port Vila.

The Authority concedes that the runway is urgently due a resurfacing or repair.

Its acting director Naiany Karu says Air New Zealand had carried out assessment of the Bauerfield Airport runway late last year.

"They didn't make a decision on the report until last Friday when they took the decision and that was it. We as the authority did not get a copy of the report."

Ms Karu says relevant local authorities have been meeting with Air New Zealand over the weekend.

Air New Zealand is tightlipped about the decision, saying it only recently received information on the viability of continuing to operate services to Vanuatu safely and has moved as quickly as possible to respond.

Port Vila international airport

Port Vila international airport Photo: RNZ