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Hundreds of passengers stranded as Pacific airline enters voluntary administration

Thomas Bywater,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 May 2024, 8:49PM
Air Vanuatu's sole 737-800.
Air Vanuatu's sole 737-800.

Hundreds of passengers stranded as Pacific airline enters voluntary administration

Thomas Bywater,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 May 2024, 8:49PM

With travellers stuck, the Vanuatu Tourism Office tells the New Zealand Herald it will share updates as they become available. Here’s what we know so far.

Hundreds of passengers are stranded across the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand after carrier Air Vanuatu grounded scores of flights at the last minute.

Plagued by technical faults for several months, the airline filed for insolvency on Monday, with an administrator yet to be named.

The Port Vila-headquartered national carrier published a list of 20 affected services, including four cancelled Auckland flights, blaming mechanical issues.

A travel advisory published by the airline last night blamed “extended maintenance requirements” for the delay. “We are working with our partner carriers to minimise the disruption to our guests.”

There has been no update on replacement flights for affected passengers.

One Kiwi traveller stranded on the island of Espiritu Santo with his wife said they and scores of fellow passengers were still waiting for more information.

“We’ve heard nothing at all, except [the flights] have all been cancelled,” he told the Herald.

Due to the airline’s routes, the affected passengers were mostly Australians and New Zealanders. The traveller said he had been hoping to fly via Brisbane back to Auckland, but all the regional departures had also been grounded.

There had been several groundings and “non-stop issues for several months”, but he noted it was odd for no flights to be taking off at all.

With only one 737 aircraft, the airline is extremely exposed to mechanical issues, and this is not the first time faults have halted operations. However, regional links operated on Air Vanuatu turboprop planes appear also to have been grounded.

Local media have also reported on the airline’s ongoing money problems, as well as technical ones.

Yesterday Vanuatu’s Daily Post confirmed Air Vanuatu’s board of directors had been dissolved and the airline had begun the process of voluntary administration.

The board was formally dissolved after appointing an administrator on Monday, May 6. The Post reported consultancy firm Ernst & Young had been asked to address the airline’s insolvency issues, with an invitation from Prime Minister’s Office director-general Cherol Ala.

A spokesperson for Air Vanuatu confirmed that consultants Ernst & Young have been appointed to assist the Vanuatu Government with the administration of the airline’s affairs.

“Ernst & Young representatives arrived in Port Vila today to begin an assessment of Air Vanuatu’s financials and are being assisted by the Vanuatu Government and the Air Vanuatu team.”

All flights through to this Sunday, May 12, have been cancelled, they said, with all further services subject to review.

Affected Air Vanuatu passengers and airline partners are advised to monitor the Vanuatu Travel Advisory website for updates.

Contacted by the New Zealand Herald about the matter, the Vanuatu Tourism Office said it was aware of reports that Air Vanuatu had entered voluntary administration.

“At this stage, we are unable to share further information but are in contact with Air Vanuatu and the Vanuatu Government and will share updates as they become available.

“We are conscious of the impact this situation has on travellers, ticket holders and the industry and on behalf of the Vanuatu tourism industry extend our apologies to anyone affected. Virgin Australia continues to fly to Vanuatu directly between Brisbane-Port Vila.”

Earlier this year, the airline’s board of directors failed in a court appeal over unresolved financial obligations. The airline had been embroiled in a long-running court case with the owners of its aircraft since 2009 over leasing terms.

In February this year, the company was ordered to pay aircraft leasing company Isleno damages in the order of VT$150 million ($2m).

Last year, international services were plagued by unreliability on the airline’s sole 737-800, the eight-year-old aircraft numbered YJ-AV8.

The airline has been contacted by the Herald for comment.

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here.

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