Vanuatu's airport bringing down its economy

Vanuatu's airport bringing down its economy

Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai has only been in the job for six months and he's already got plenty of thorny issues to resolve - one being Port Vila's dilapidated runway.

Air New Zealand hasn't flown there since January, and Mr Salwai says the country's problem-plagued airport runway has hit the economy hard - however he expects resurfacing to begin early next year.

Mr Salwai says he understands Air New Zealand's refusal to resume services, but says if passenger services are not running, neither should charter flights.

"It affected the whole economy of the country," says Mr Salwai.

The runway has required multiple emergency patch-up jobs, and regular sweeping to ensure asphalt isn't sucked up into jet engines.

It's due for a $59 million overhaul.

"We hope that real works will start by February next year," says Mr Salwai.

Air New Zealand says it won't return until that's been built by "a competent contractor" and the Government isn't going to force their hand.

"Yes I think they'd like to see Air New Zealand back, but as we pointed out to them: while it's 51 percent owned by the Government, it's commercially and independently run from the government," says Prime Minister John Key.

Air New Zealand did try and fly a charter plane into Port Vila, but Vanuatu said no because of its stand on passenger services.

"The minister responsible for Civil Aviation decided to say no," says Mr Salwai, who says he stands by the decision of his officials.

Runway issues aside, Mr Salwai inherited a Government in disarray. He was elected after 14 fellow MPs were jailed for bribery.

He says reform to stamp out corruption is another priority.

"People want change and one of the changes we want to do undertake reform and political reform to address political instability."

Part of that will involve a review of the constitution to better regulate and monitor political parties.


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