An update on Vanuatu’s runway

The statistics are in and there has indeed been a drop in visitor arrivals to Vanuatu. In February 2016, visitor arrivals by airplane were 21% lower than in February 2015 (dropping from 5,389 to 4,274) – an unwelcome decline for an economy still recovering from Cyclone Pam.

Since we wrote about the Vanuatu Government’s failure to maintain its runway, Air New Zealand has postponed its return to Vanuatu, arguing that the remedial works on the runway are only temporary and that it needs greater long-term certainty before re-commencing flights.

There continues to be a widespread perception in Vanuatu that the flight cancellations have been driven by commercial incentives, and that the problems with the runway are being used as an excuse by the airlines to limit their flights. This week there has been a development that supports this argument. Air New Zealand several days ago sought permission to land a charter flight in Port Vila for returning ni-Vanuatu RSE workers – a request made despite Air New Zealand having announced it would not re-commence regular flights due to concerns about the condition of the runway. The Minister for Public Utilities and Infrastructure directed the Civil Aviation Authority Vanuatu (CAAV) to refuse the Air New Zealand request. He said in a statement: “To apply for a charter using an Airbus A320 indicates they are satisfied with the state of the runway – so the question must be asked, why are they willing to operate a profitable charter flight, yet not commit to resuming commercial services?”

The Air New Zealand website, notwithstanding its attempt to charter a flight to Vanuatu, continues to state that: “Air New Zealand is suspending services between Auckland and Vanuatu in light of on-going concerns about the condition of the runway at Port Vila International Airport.” Qantas has still not confirmed whether or when it will reinstate it’s codeshare with Air Vanuatu, but a (possible) silver lining is that Virgin has begun taking bookings for flights from May 23 after nearly four months of suspension.

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Matthew Dornan

Matthew Dornan was formerly Deputy Director at the Development Policy Centre and is currently a senior economist at the World Bank.

Jonathan Pryke

Jonathan Pryke worked at the Development Policy Centre from 2011, and left in mid-2015 to join the Lowy Institute, where he is now Director of the Pacific Islands Program. He has a Master of Public Policy/Master of Diplomacy from Crawford School of Public Policy and the College of Diplomacy, ANU.


  • This item does not actually reference the fact that the necessary short-term repairs to the runway have been completed in accordance with the government’s undertakings in its 100 day plan and according to schedule by 2 NZ civil engineering companies. The government is now in active discussion with the World Bank to secure a loan that will not only rectify issues with the airport at Bauerfield but will go beyond that to provide an upgrade to Level E (allowing for the use of larger aircraft). The High Commissions of New Zealand and Australia are well placed to advise corporate entities domiciled in their countries that the current government has demonstrated good will, active leadership and technocratic decision-making on this as well as numerous other fronts. I understand that Foreign Minister McCully is scheduled to visit Vanuatu in June in conjunction with a high-level EU delegation. One wonders how exactly he plans to get here.

    • Tess, thank’you for bringing some insights to this topic so readers can see and judge for themselves. It is important that we look at the progress the Vanuatu government has made in such a short span of time on this very pressing issue. I still think that Air-NZ has acted in an inappropriate way in its dealing with the Vanuatu govt. Credits should be given to the current government for the speedy recovery plan put ahead and as you clearly said, they are now in talks with the WB for a long term planning that will allow in the future larger aircraft to land.
      We are brothers and sisters, we are Pacific Islanders linked by one mighty Ocean, and we should not treat ourselves in such a way that we are hiding our “little dirty secrets” from each other. If Air-NZ thinks according to their financial analysis that AKL-VLI Route is no longer profitable, then the least they can do is announce the real reason behind this but in no way using the runway saga as their scapegoat. The prove is they want to fly in a charter. Bullying tactics has never taken anyone anywhere.

    • Indeed! I can just picture the awkward tour of the refurbished runway by the NZ Foreign Minister when he touches down. Thanks for the added information.

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