Port Vila runway surface causes Air NZ to suspend flights and Qantas to end codeshares while Virgin maintains services

A 2009 image of Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila. (Wikimedia/PetterLundkvist)
A 2009 image of Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila. (Wikimedia Commons/PetterLundkvist)

Air New Zealand has suspended flights between Auckland and Vanuatu due to concerns over the condition of the runway at Bauerfield International Airport, while Qantas has removed its QF airline code from Air Vanuatu-operated services between Australia and Port Vila.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia continues to fly between Brisbane and Port Vila, as does the national carrier Air Vanuatu and Solomon Airlines.

Virgin said its safety experts conducted a full review of the airport over the weekend and concluded its Boeing 737-800 aircraft could continue to safely operate in and out of Port Vila.

“We are working with authorities in Vanuatu to ensure the condition of the runway remains safe at all times and will continue to work closely with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority,” Virgin said in a statement.

“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.

“Safety is always our number one priority and Virgin Australia would never put its passengers, crew or aircraft at risk.”

Air Vanuatu said its chief executive, shareholder representatives, senior management and pilots met with the airport and the nation’s Civil Aviation Authority on Sunday.

The airline said it had implemented a plan to continue jet operations at Bauerfield Airport, with “several extra safety precautions” in place until work on permanent repairs to the runway started.

“The safety measures imposed by Air Vanuatu require daily ‘sweeping’ of the runway plus regular inspections prior to and after take-off; new obstacle and runway surveys and 200m of runway to be marked for urgent repair,” Air Vanuatu said in a statement.

“These measures would ensure in the short-term, jet operations could continue in to Bauerfield.”

Air Vanuatu said its ATR turboprop services were are not affected and would continue as normal.

Solomon Airlines has also decided to maintain its Airbus A320 flights from Port Vila to Honiara and Nadi.

“Passengers and crew safety remain an absolute priority for Solomon Airlines and if there was ever any doubt, we would act accordingly,” Solomon Airlines general manager for operations and commercial Gus Kraus said in a statement.

“Hence our decision to immediately carry out our own review of the runway which in part was done in consultation with our Airbus A320 Manager International Flight Operations and Flight Examiner when they flew through Port Vila to Nadi on Saturday afternoon and again by senior pilots returning on Sunday.

“Our conclusion is that the runway is safe and we will continue to maintain operations with our flagship Airbus A320 into and out of the airport on its normal weekly schedule.

“If for any reason the situation changes, we will take appropriate action at that time.”

Air NZ operated its last service to and from Port Vila took place on Sunday, with the Airbus A320 flights supported by “additional oversight” from the airline’s technical experts, to repatriate passengers affected by the decision to cease flying.

“The condition of the runway at Port Vila has been gradually deteriorating and we have taken the difficult decision to suspend services before the situation becomes unsafe,” Air NZ general manager for flight operations Stephen Hunt said in a statement.

Air NZ also removed its NZ airline code from Air Vanuatu-operated Auckland-Vanuatu flights. Passengers affected by the decision have the option of changing their booking to another Pacific Island destination or receiving a full refund, Air NZ customer care spokesperson Debbie McKeown said in a statement.

While Qantas does not operate its own flights to Vanuatu, the Flying Kangaroo does have codeshare arrangements on Air Vanuatu’s services to Australia. Those codeshares have now been suspended, Qantas said in a statement on its website.

“Qantas has received information that the condition of the runway at Port Vila International Airport (VLI) is not currently suitable for jet aircraft,” Qantas said.

“Qantas has removed its code from the Air Vanuatu services operating into and out of Port Vila. As a result you will not be able to travel to Port Vila as a Qantas passenger until further notice.”

Port Vila’s lone runway, 11/29, is 2,600m in length and surfaced with asphalt, and a World Bank concessional loan of US$59.5m (A$86.3m) to the Vanuatu Government will include runway resurfacing, according to a Radio NZ report from last March. It would seem that work will not come soon enough to satisfy Air New Zealand’s safety concerns.


  1. Freddie says

    Curious- what makes it safe for one Australian operator and unsafe for another Australian and NZ operator..?

  2. Carolyn says

    I was one of the passengers on the Friday flight they decided to cancel and I don’t feel it was just because of the run way issue they Ma be facing at the moment ……. When we finally got out Sunday the 24 th three days later our plane was still on the Tarmac with two mechanics hanging out of it apparently for the second time in a week please this is such beautiful spot in the world help these people sort out the issues before we have a major catastrophe . I would like to say thankyou to the Melanesia for putting us all up and showing wonderful patience with many disgruntled passengers wanting to get home well done I say I myself enjoyed the unplanned extension of my holiday I will go back can’t wait cheers ..Carolyn

  3. Aries1470 says

    Hi Freddie,
    Just a hunch, one is a code share, while the other isn’t. I guess it is easier to get a situational awareness from your own pilots and ask them to use a portion of the runway rather than the full length. I am just pulling straws out of thin air. Also, it is not based in Australia, it’s an international destination, unless our own guys go there and say that it is not safe anymore (ATSB). Maybe there’s some leeway left. Having said that, Air NZ was also code sharing too.

    Would be great if the author of the article keeps tracking the progress and uses a reminder, so that we can also be updated on the progress and for when the works will actually start and what amount has been allocated to the project, as there is a figure for a loan, but does not mention the purpose of it, only that a portion of that amount would be used for the airport, and that is from last year in March. What has happened since then? Has there been any contracts awarded,when are works starting? It is like regurgitated news 🙁

  4. Jo says

    It would appear that the lives of those with the ability to afford a more expensive flight are worth more than those who can afford only cheaper flights with Virhin. Just disgraceful.

  5. Roy Fordham says

    If this was the situation in 2009, it would appear that the Vanuatu Government has been less than enthusiastic in their statement, in regard runway resurfacing,
    And I agree with Freddie, as regard the question of ‘unsafe for some airlines, but not for others’.

  6. Roman says

    Both Air Vanuatu and Virgin use 737s while AirNewZealand uses A320s so it may have something to do with the plane type.
    My understanding is that they don’t make that much on code shares so if there are risks to delays Qantas probably doesn’t want to deal with it. Just my guess.

  7. Matt says

    Takes one accident on the runway for people to change their minds and start complaining about airlines not stop flying into the airport if they knew runway was not safe.

    People seem to don’t care until something happens.

    AirNZ is just taking precautions to protect their image and reputation and to safe guard their passengers.

  8. Peter A says

    It is CASA who may be concerned if its an Australian registered aircraft as they issue the airline operators certificate. Each airline has its own Safety Management Plan and System, and these events are triggered by different criteria depending on the severity of the risk, so its not surprising that not all airlines would cancel at the same time. We are lucky in this part of the world where safety is a major factor in all airline operations. Its not so in many other places.
    Google the last flight of the Concorde out of Paris and see what can happen when there is rubbish on the runway.

  9. Vannus says

    These tenth world countries’ don’t have the money to upkeep a runway. Can guess where any allocated funds go to…………………………

    They’ve got no priorities’, & a runway is unimportant to them, as they can’t think beyond today, how it’s useful.

    Bye, bye Tourism income to Vanuatu, for a L O N G time!

  10. Vannus says

    To Peter A……

    In the early ’70’s, I was flying from Vienna, to Hong Kong, via Athens, Teheran, Delhi, on QANTAS Boeing 707-338c.

    As we turned to taxiway at Delhi, saw little old lady, with her straw broom, start sweeping the runway!

    Maybe Port Vila Airport needs someone like that!

    And yes, that piece of metal that was flung up from Paris runway, to underbelly of the Concorde, sure hit the wrong spot!