28 Jan 2016

Virgin latest to ground Vanuatu flights

8:50 pm on 28 January 2016

Virgin Australia has suspended flights between Brisbane and Vanuatu over fears the runway at the Port Vila international airport is not up to scratch.

Port Vila international airport

Port Vila international airport Photo: RNZ

Qantas and Air New Zealand suspended their flights to the tourist destination earlier this week, but Virgin delayed making its decision, saying it had sent safety experts to the airport to inspect the condition of the runway.

In a statement posted to Virgin's website on Thursday, the airline said it had decided to suspend its flight "after a further review ... until we have greater confidence that the runway will be maintained appropriately".

"We will operate a return service between Brisbane and Vanuatu on Saturday [January 30], available to guests returning to their port of origin," the statement read.

The airline said customers who had already booked travel to or from Vanuatu would be offered refunds, changes of destination or travel credits.

"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.

In a statement uploaded to its website at the weekend, Air Vanuatu said it would continue flying to the airport at Port Vila after extra safety precautions were put in place, including daily "sweeping" of the runway.

The suspensions are a huge blow to Vanuatu's tourism industry, which is still reeling from damage caused by Cyclone Pam last year.

Delays in the maintenance and upgrade of the Bauerfield International Airport has been politically poisonous for years, with former prime minister Joe Natuman telling parliament in 2014 he feared the International Civil Aviation Organisation could shut it down at short notice.


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