Qantas, Air NZ Halt Vanuatu Flights Over Runway Risks

January 25, 2016

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Qantas and Air New Zealand have suspended flights to Vanuatu due to safety concerns about its airport runway, a blow to tourism and the Pacific island nation's recovery efforts after a cyclone last year.

Virgin Australia, however, said it would continue to fly to Port Vila, after its investigators examined the runway over the weekend and deemed it safe.

Australia and New Zealand account for the bulk of visitors to Vanuatu, which relied on tourism for more than a third of its GDP last year, government data show.

In March, the island was ravaged by Cyclone Pam, which wiped out more than 90 percent of its crops and disrupted the lives of most of its population.

Air New Zealand, which flew once a week from Auckland to Port Vila, said it had sent its last flight on Sunday. "Weather and jet engine activity are resulting in loose material on the runway," a spokeswoman said.

In a statement, Qantas said it had cancelled a code-share agreement that included selling tickets for local carrier Air Vanuatu over concerns about the condition of the runway.

Officials at Vanuatu's civil aviation department were not available for comment, but Air Vanuatu, which is operating flights as usual, said the department had put in place several safety measures after an emergency weekend meeting.

These measures included daily sweeping of the runway, regular inspections and marking a 200 m (656 ft) stretch for urgent repairs, the airline said in a statement.

Fiji Airways, Solomon Airlines and Air Niugini are still flying to Port Vila according to a spokesperson from Air Vanuatu.