air safety

Jan 28, 2016

Vanuatu to lose its last Aussie jet as Virgin leaves

The failed state of Vanuatu's shoddy runway at the Bauerfield, Port Vila airport has finally become evident to Virgin Australia, which like Qantas and its main shareholder, Air New

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Port Vila airport minus jets
Port Vila airport minus jets

The failed state of Vanuatu’s shoddy runway at the Bauerfield, Port Vila airport has finally become evident to Virgin Australia, which like Qantas and its main shareholder, Air New Zealand, is now taking its jets home until things get fixed.

Qantas and Air New Zealand took fright over the risks earlier this week, as the runway showed increasing signs of breaking up and threatening undercarriages and control surfaces that could have been hit by lumps of stuff from the crumbling tarmac.

The concerns at Qantas were such that it wouldn’t even sell its customers a code shared flight on Air Vanuatu, which spoke at loud volume about its unhappiness with the situation.

So if you are thinking of flying there on an Air Vanuatu jet, take counsel, and check your travel insurance fine print.

The last Virgin Australia flight will depart Port Vila for Brisbane on Saturday.

The immediate suspension of outbound flights to the beautiful South Pacific archipelago is of course a tragedy for its tourism industry, but the indifference of its authorities to a long running, and most recently, rapidly deteriorating situation is a very, very poor reflection on the quality of public administration and political diligence in the tiny republic.

They have screwed the pooch, to use a term of notable relevance to another disgraceful story in today’s Australian headlines.

The issue for the Australian and New Zealand airlines is that of a jet suffering sufficient damage to strand it on the island. The only way to get such a damaged jet repaired would be to park it until the runway was sufficiently stuck back together to take a relief and repair flight landing, so that it could be rendered safe to send back empty to a maintenance base.

Virgin Australia was the last Australian or New Zealand airline to apparently come to such a conclusion. No doubt some other less concerned carriers might have a go at maintaining jet services.  Port Vila is also served by turbo-props from Fiji and Noumea.

Vanuatu deserves much better than this. But the often repeated accusations that some of its political figures help themselves more than they help the country have come true in so far as the runway is concerned, as an offer from abroad to fund its repairs last year ran into difficulties that have not been lucidly explained.

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11 thoughts on “Vanuatu to lose its last Aussie jet as Virgin leaves

  1. jukebox

    A rather tight U-turn for the Virgin corporate jet, wasn’t it? From gung ho to gun shy in about a week…

  2. Dan Dair

    Better to be late with a decision,
    than TOO late.?
    (Subject to today’s flights being untroubled.!)

  3. Travel Hound

    Hello Ben,

    I think there could be more to this story.

    Having worked on new airports in Indonesia which were financed with Japanese Aid money, I do question how a small island like Vanuatu could afford the $76 million to upgrade the runway.

    The World Bank has been known for placing fairly onerous conditions on their loans and as such I suspect the delay in agreeing to the finance deal could be based upon more than just the Island states administrators being a little lazy.

  4. Ben Sandilands

    That’s (cough) what I was referring to. I should have been blunter. It was a question I believe as to just whom was going to get the money, or how the money was going to make its heroic way into tarmac and ‘associated’ works. Not that there were any doubts about this of course. (splutter).

  5. Cut Snake

    It doesn’t look Virgin fly from Brisbane to Luganville direct anymore either(the other main town on Santo island) even so it is another 1 hour connecting flight to Port Vila.

    It is really terrible for Vanuatu this. We were there again in November and there is still much cyclone damage unrepaired.

    We have been there a few times, and well off the tourist hotspots, it is a beautiful place and local population are lovely friendly people. It is pity about the massive corruption. Half the members of parliament were recently jailed for fraud!

  6. Geoff

    When I was there on a cruise ship the taxi driver told us that the Chinese had paid for the flashy Parliament building so the US then paid to seal the road that runs around the island.

    Not sure what Australia does apart from send in the C17s when there is a cyclone and laugh at them over the state of the runway. (I’m sure there’s lots but we don’t hear much about it and the taxi driver hadn’t heard much either)

  7. Travel Hound

    Whatever the situation is, the price for the repair of the runway is not coming to them cheap. I suspect the economics of repairing the runway just doesn’t add for the small airport.

    The problem for Vanuatu is the airport is the life blood for the region.

    Considering a couple of C17 flights would probably cost in the region of a $1 million dollars, I think some well directed aid to this small little piece of paradise would be money well spent.

  8. Simon Gunson

    So reading the tea leaves let me guess will this be a Kiwi or Aussie Civil Engineering contractor applying the screws to this poverty stricken nation?

  9. Jaeger

    Any updates on this story, Ben?

    I found this article which mentioned a possible resumption of flights by VA in May:

    I’m in the bad books with DW for belatedly remembering the flight cancellations to Port Vila later when she was researching holiday options. (If there were no flights “available”, I would have twigged earlier.)

    How does Santo-Pekoa, Luganville (SON) compare to VLI?


  10. Ben Sandilands

    That was a good backgrounder although it avoided the alleged corruption issues, which I read as being of some concern as to where the money was actually going.

    Santo, when undamaged, is a lovely,stunning, rewarding place but with far less tourism support infrastructure according to other reports. I haven’t been there since the early 80s, when the scuba on war time wrecks and scuttled cargoes was quite amazingly interesting ,and sometimes, quite challenging once in the vessels.

    I don’t believe Luganville is a suitable alternative airport, and wouldn’t be commercially attractive because of the cost of flying inter island in the republic.

  11. Jaeger

    Thanks, Ben!

    Luganville is actually closer to the resort we were looking at than Port Vila; the later requires an island hop (mentioned, casually, on their “getting here” page.)

    I assume Qantas/Virgin would have considered diverting flights to Luganville if it was a viable alternative… hmm.

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