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.