25 Jan 2016

Air NZ decision on Vanuatu came with little warning

7:20 pm on 25 January 2016

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

Port Vila international airport

Port Vila international airport Photo: RNZ

The carrier suddenly suspended flights on Friday, citing concerns about foreign objects on the runway of Bauerfield Airport.

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.

She says the Authority and Airports Vanuatu Ltd are increasing actions to mitigate the runway problem, including stringent clearance of debris.

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.

Former Vanuatu PM laments broken-down World Bank deal on airports

A leading politician in Vanuatu says runway problems at Port Vila's airport could have already been fixed if the last government had not pulled out of a deal with the World Bank.

Air New Zealand has announced it will stop flying to Vanuatu because of concerns over the safety of the runway, prompting Qantas to follow suit, amid expectations of a Virgin Australia announcement.

Joe Natuman, who was ousted as prime minister by Sato Kilman last year, says Mr Kilman scrapped his deal with the World Bank in favour of a Shanghai-based consortium that hasn't eventuated.

"We had already agreed on those, [but] when this new government went in they changed the plan and they wanted to get the Chinese to do it, and that disturbed the World Bank, otherwise it would have already started. So this is one of the things we need to sort out when a new government goes into office."

Joe Natuman says Vanuatu relies on tourism, and a halt to intake from Australia and New Zealand could have devastating consequences.

Former Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman

Former Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman Photo: RNZI / Kim Baker-Wilson

Solomon Airlines still to decide

Other Pacific Islands regional airlines are yet to follow Air New Zealand's lead.

Fiji Airways has reportedly accepted interim management assurances of safety to continue flying to Vanuatu.

Solomon Airlines, which has a weekly flight to Port Vila, says it's yet to decide on whether to suspend flights.

The airline's Operations and Commercial Manager Gus Kraus says the airline is in discussions with Vanuatu airport authorities as well as its regional partners, Air Vanuatu and Air Niugini.

"About whether we will take the full action that Air New Zealand has, or we will try to seek mitigating the extenuation of the current problems on the runway. So we are still in discussions, there's no decisions made. Our next service to Vanuatu is next Saturday so we'll come up with a conclusive decision by then and we'll make sure that it's in the media."