VANUATU INVESTOR TO LAUNCH NEW DOMESTIC AIRLINE

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Vanuatu Airways to compete with government airline

By Len Garae PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 5, 2011) – Vanuatu Airways is the name of a new domestic airline that local investor, Dinh Van Than, is planning to launch to compete with Air Vanuatu.

[PIR editor’s note: Dinh Van Than is Vanuatu’s businessman and a former leader of the country’s National United Party.]

Than who is determined to launch the domestic airline to break the stranglehold monopoly that the Government has created through Air Vanuatu, said he is confident new Prime Minister Sato Kilman will approve his application.

And the marketing point for the owner of the former domestic airline, Doveair, is that Vanuatu Airways will not only provide a quality service but it will also be cheaper for domestic travelers.

Vanuatu Airways is to have a fleet of two Islanders with a capacity of 9 passengers each and a 34-seater DELTA plane. He said one Islander is to be based in Tanna to service Tafea outer islands and the other one is to be based in Luganville to service Torba Province, Maewo and Pentecost.

The bigger plane is to be based in Port Vila to fly to Whitegrass Airport in Tanna, Luganville in Santo and Longana in East Ambae to pick up passengers and cargo. It has a capacity for two tons of cargo.

"Passengers from the islands of Torba Province and Maewo and Pentecost who book to fly to Port Vila or Santo will be flown to Longana Airfield by an Islander from which they transfer to the DELTA to continue their journey to Luganville or the Capital," Than said.

The airfares on all the routes are expected to be lower than the current airfares that Air Vanuatu Domestic charges.

"For example, while Air Vanuatu charges 31,000 vatu [US$330] return airfare on the Port Vila/Luganville/Port Vila route, we will charge 20,000 vatu [US$200] per ticket and the passengers save 10,000 vatu [US$110]," he said.

He said he has already submitted his application to the Government and is awaiting its approval.

"All plans are in place so as soon as we get the approval, we will begin our air service within the next two to three months," he said.

As an investor Than said the Government also knows the importance of competition.

"Look at how the Government allowed Digicel to come in to break the monopoly enjoyed by Telecommunications Vanuatu Limited (TVL). The logical decision has forced mobile phone prices to come crashing down to their minimum and that is what the spirit of business competition is all about," he said

On the present management of Air Vanuatu, Than said the Government has made a commitment to the people and needs to keep the airline in operation. It is based on this commitment that the Government keeps injecting millions of public money to keep it going.

"If it was not for our contributions then Air Vanuatu would have already gone bankrupt. The question is how much longer can the Government continue to use our money to pump 300 -400 million-vatu [US$3.2 million- 4.3 million] to keep it afloat?" he asked.

Than said his new company is expected to make a loss of approximately 6 million-vatu [US$64,000] annually on its Tafea outer islands’ routes and approximately 4 million-vatu [US$43,000] on its routes to Torba Province. But he said the DELTA plane is expected to make up for those losses.

Asked if it is worth making those losses at both ends of the archipelago, he said it is necessary to fill the gap where Government after Government have vowed to provide service delivery to the grassroots in those islands and have failed to do so.

Than who owned a thriving Doveair domestic company with six aircraft closed business following the devastating land riots in Port Vila in 1988.

Newly appointed Government Public Relations Officer Richard Kaltongga said the Government is aware of Than’s airline project and that if he can help (air travelers) by reducing their airfares then the Government is all for it.

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