Air NZ maintains stand on Vanuatu airport
Despite emergency remedial works being completed at Vanuatu's main airport, Air New Zealand is maintaining its suspension on commercial flights. However the carrier made a request to charter flights into Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila, which was knocked back by the Public Utilities Minister.
Despite emergency remedial works being completed at Vanuatu's main airport, Air New Zealand is maintaining its suspension on commercial flights.
However, the carrier made a request to charter flights into Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila, which was knocked back by the Public Utilities Minister.
Reporter Alex Perrottet outlined the situation to Johnny Blades.
ALEX PERROTTET: So the New Zealand firms Fulton Hogan and Tonkin+Taylor have completed the remedial works, which were undertaken to a very tight deadline. It was basically asphalt pavement repair and surface spraying. This was prompted by the cancellation of flights by Air New Zealand and Virgin, and Qantas cancelling their codeshare deals with Air Vanuatu.
JOHNNY BLADES: So these works were obviously undertaken to enable flights to resume while the Government negotiates the terms of a lucrative deal sponsored by the World Bank. But Air New Zealand have decided they won't resume flights just yet?
AP: That's right - they've said they will only be happy to do that if they see a contract signed off and tenders go out and contractors appointed. They also want to see designs for the redevelopment. Now this is while at the same time requesting the Vanuatu Civil Aviation Authority to land charter flights at Bauerfield. So it's clearly not a concern over safety, but more likely an operational decision - they seem to not be keen to recommence schedules and then perhaps have the major redevelopment plans shelved again. You'll recall that one chapter in the whole saga over the airport was that the World Bank agreement, signed by the government last June, was shelved and now brought back on by the Salwai government. Unfortunately Air New Zealand haven't responded to our requests for comment, but most likely it's a well-founded concern, given the instability of Vanuatu politics, that it's just too risky to re-establish those routes into its schedules right now.
JB: Now it wasn't just Air New Zealand that pulled out in January. Qantas and Virgin Australia also cancelled their flights - have we heard what they are planning to do now that the airstrip issues have been remedied?
AP: Both carriers haven't been able to respond today, but Qantas has a codeshare deal with Air Vanuatu which they suspended - there's been no indication that that is changing, we just haven't been able to get a response, however Virgin Airways have a tentative date to resume, which is May the 23rd - they are taking bookings from that date onwards.
JB: Meantime tourism in the country is obviously taking a real hit.
AP: That's right we had the chairman of the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association Bryan Death tell us last week that it's caused more damage than Cyclone Pam, so I suspect the Government is trying to move forward as soon as possible to finalise the definitive redevelopment of the airport and assure carriers like Air New Zealand. Just today they've announced that they are negotiating with the World Bank to allow the new airport to have larger aircraft such as Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s to land, which would be a boon for tourism in the long term, but again they will need to tie this up soon so operators can have at least some reprieve in the short term.
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