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Community wants weekly international flight continued

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 2, 2010) - The ground swell of discontent in Santo with Air Vanuatu’s unilateral decision to stop international flights continues to escalate with another large meeting of concerned residents at Hotel Santo on Wednesday.

Once again the majority of the business community were represented with more than 20% of these being Ni-Vanuatu – demonstrating the concern that the decision has far reaching consequences for the people of Santo.

The meeting was chaired by long standing Santo businessman Kevin Green.

According to a statement released right after the meeting, "At least twelve new businesses have opened in downtown Luganville in 2009 - this does not include resorts."

Several business owners were reported to have even documented the effect this decision could have on them with two resorts considering shelving plans for additional bungalows.

"One business detailed their investment in an 8-page centre colour spread featuring Air Vanuatu as the only direct carrier to Santo – a huge advertising expense wasted!!

"Others spoke of the original encouragement from VTO, Air Vanuatu and the Vanuatu Government asking for more investment in Santo in extra beds and infrastructure based on the promise of direct international flights.

"Other businesses have been upgrading and improving – with Aore Island Resort recently winning the Best Outer Island Resort award.

"Since the flights commenced four new resorts have opened and others have increased capacity significantly – and just as a new road is being built a new resort on the east coast is under construction and plans are being drawn up for another – the rug has been pulled from under Santo’s feet.

"At least four new subdivisions have been developed with many investors buying in Santo specifically because of the direct international flights.

"It was clear at the meeting that the Santo community will not accept this decision by Air Vanuatu. They do not believe the reasons given for the cancellation. No real data has been provided and what has been bandied about is inconsistent and does not tally with statements by Air Vanuatu in the past.

"People remember well when the 737-800 first came to Santo and at the ceremony Terry Kerr announced that the passenger numbers were easily exceeding the break-even amount and the direct flights were here to stay.

"What really happened??

"What is the real cause of the problem is it financial or political?

"These are the questions that the people of Santo want answered," the statement went on.

In the meantime plans are being made to ensure that international flights will continue to Santo – one way or another.

"Port Vila has at least six direct flights a week from Australia – how dare Air Vanuatu cancel Santo’s one and only direct flight," the Santo businessmen’s statement said.

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