10th February 2016
Vanuatu's already fragile tourism market is currently feeling the strain with a number of international airlines suspending flights to the island's capital Port Vila over concerns about a deteriorating runway. The tourism market is still trying to recover from the devastating effects of Cyclone Pam almost a year ago, and this flights fiasco has dealt the people of Vanuatu a fresh blow.
Although Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand have suspended flights to Vanuatu, both Qantas and Air Vanuatu continue to fly. Last week, Air Vanuatu released a statement explaining why they continue to fly, reinforcing that safety was their main priority. The Australian Centre for Geomechanics (ACG) conducted an independent assessment of Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila with their report finding that the runway is safe to continue jet operations. The report also found no signs of any foreign object debris of any size on the runway surface.
The report did however recommend that runway sweeping operations should continue at its current frequency until the runway can undergo rejuvenation. Currently the runway is cleaned before and after every flight to ensure it continues to be safe to use. The ACG report also recommended contingency plans to maintain safe operation of the runway, including removing excess water prior to landing during heavy rainfall. Air Vanuatu continues to share information from the report with overseas carriers and reiterated that, as the national carrier of Vanuatu, they are continuing to honour their responsibility to provide safe and reliable service to passengers.
Virgin Australia is offering full refunds for passengers affected by the suspension of flights to Vanuatu. They are also offering to waiver any fees as a result of customers who wish to change their holiday plans, however those wanting to change holiday destinations will still be required to pay any fare differences. Any passengers no longer wanting to holiday in Vanuatu will be at the mercy of the various cancellation policies of the resorts.
Those with travel insurance look to be the winners in this situation as most policies cover cancellation or flight price increases as a result of changing carriers due to flight cancellations. However every policy, provider and level of cover is different and any customers affected are advised to contact their travel agent and/or insurance provider to find out where they stand and make arrangements.
While it's hoped the runway will undergo rejuvenation by April, there's no word yet on when Virgin Australia intend to recommence flights to Vanuatu. Air Vanuatu reminds passengers that it operates under a strict 'safety first' policy at all times and will continue to do so. The airline said it would continue to monitor the conditions of the runway and will review services to Port Vila should conditions deteriorate before the planned runway upgrade commences.