Seldom has a failure of executive governance and performance been so damaging to a beautiful and hospitable place as has been the case with Vanuatu and its jet runway at Port Vila, deemed unsafe by both Qantas and Air New Zealand.
The situation was underlined today in statements by the NZ and Australian airlines saying they will not resume flights in their own right, or as codeshares with Air Vanuatu, until certain conditions are met.
Both airlines want to be completely satisfied that interim repairs are completed to their standards for safe operations and that they can be assured the plans for a permanent ‘fix’ involving its reconstruction are ‘fully confirmed’ and to ‘international standards’.
Air NZ, Qantas, and eventually, Virgin Australia, all suspended flights to Port Vila’s Bauerfield International Airport in January because the runway continued to deteriorate until it crossed the line from being unsatisfactory to intolerable.
This impasse has persisted into the start of what should have been the April peak month for visitors from Australia and New Zealand. It is incredible that Vanuatu has allowed this extremely damaging situation to continue to a point where it will seriously impact the economy of the small South Pacific state.
Air Vanuatu continues to fly non-stop services to Port Vila in its own right using a 737-800 maintained by Qantas, but the refusal of Qantas to apply its codeshare to those services is very telling, as codeshares come with legal responsibilities to consumers that the Australia carrier by inference considers too risky to enter into in relation to services flown by that carrier.
If you are planning to fly to Vanuatu by non-stop jet you may or may not take comfort from this statement by Air Vanuatu which has been on its booking site since early February.
Air Vanuatu has received an independent assessment of Bauerfield airport from ACG in Australia and is satisfied the condition of the runway is safe to continue jet operations.
The report found no sign of any foreign object debris (FOD) of any size on the runway surface and recommended ‘runway sweeping operations should continue at its current frequency until such a time as surface rejuvenation is undertaken’.
The report further recommended contingency plans for Air Vanuatu in order to maintain safe operations, including the requirement for Airports Vanuatu Limited (AVL) to remove excess water from the runway prior to landing during heavy rainfall.
The national carrier has been attending daily briefings with Airports Vanuatu Limited (the operator of Bauerfield airport) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV) and is grateful for the open and honest discussions. We have been pleased with the swift response of the authorities to increase precautionary measures at our request.
We continue to share information with overseas carriers, some of whom have not attended any of these briefings nor conducted independent inspections, yet suspended jet services.
As the national carrier, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and reliable service to passengers. We are continuing to do so.
We welcome passengers from other carriers to contact our offices in Auckland and Sydney to continue with their Vanuatu holiday plans.
The last line of that statement refers to the refusal of Qantas and Air New Zealand to go along with the assertions of Air Vanuatu.
Vanuatu needs those services or codeshares to resume. The Australian and Kiwi carriers don’t need Vanuatu at all, and will not in their judgment risk the safety of their customers until matters are fixed to their standards.
This beautiful part of the South Pacific has already suffered from last year’s devastating Cyclone Pam, and the self inflicted barriers to restoring jet service or codeshares by two major airline brands are a pointer for the curious to do more research into the state of government and public administration in Port Vila.