Qantas, Air NZ Suspend Vanuatu Flights Over Runway Concerns

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Political turmoil has delayed much needed repairs

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 24, 2016) – Qantas and Air New Zealand have suspended flights to Vanuatu over concerns about the condition of the runway at the international airport in the capital, Port Vila.

While Air New Zealand has halted services from Port Vila to Auckland, Qantas will no longer sell Air Vanuatu's flights between Sydney and Brisbane and the Vanuatu capital as part of a code-sharing arrangement.

New Zealand ran one last return service between Auckland and Vanuatu's Bauerfield International Airport on Sunday to repatriate customers.

Virgin Australia, which provides flights out of Brisbane, has sent safety experts to the airport to inspect the runway.

In a statement on its website, domestic airline Air Vanuatu said after meetings with Airports Vanuatu and its civil aviation authority, extra safety precautions have been put in place until permanent repairs could begin.

"The safety measures imposed by Air Vanuatu require daily 'sweeping' of the runway plus regular inspections prior to and after take-off, new obstacle and runway surveys, and 200 metres of runway to be marked for urgent repair," it said.

The suspensions are a blow to Vanuatu's tourism industry, which continues to recover following the devastation from Cyclone Pam last year.

The chairman of the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association, Bryan Death, told Pacific Beat while the short-term damage was being minimised, Vanuatu's reputation as a tourist destination may have already been harmed.

Delays in the maintenance and upgrade of Bauerfield has been politically poisonous for years, with former prime minister Joe Natuman telling parliament in 2014 he feared the International Civil Aviation Organisation could shut it down at short notice.

Mr Death said the World Bank had an offer on the table to fund an $85 million airport upgrade in May, but further political interference hampered those plans.

"That would have seen the works done and completed probably before Christmas last year," he said.

"It's been pure procrastination, and sadly it is about self-interest rather than the national interest of Vanuatu that has prevented this contract from been vetted."

Tourism accounts for about 20 per cent of the South Pacific nation's economy.

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