Vanuatu runway damage known for years

Vanuatu runway damage known for years

The authority in charge of maintenance at Vanuatu's main airport says it's been warning about the poor state of the country's runway for five years, but there's been little action from the government.

It comes as new rules are introduced to ensure the airport remains operational.

Air Vanuatu's jetliner was still ferrying passengers out of Port Vila today, after the airport introduced new safety measures.

That includes daily sweeping of the runway – dragging a giant clawed mat across the tarmac to clear any loose concrete and asphalt.

But this is no permanent solution. Those in charge of maintenance say resurfacing should have happened years ago.

"I'm a bit frustrated because we filled in forms, and documentation and reports, and commented on consultants' reports [and] engineering's reports, and there has been too much commenting on documents, but work has not been done," says Kevin Abel, the manager of operations at AVL – the company which runs the airport.

Mr Abel has been writing reports on the poor state of the tarmac for five years, but says his warnings have not been acted on.

"They know about this up to the government level," he says. "The director general also knows about this. They are on the same board as me. They know about the concerns we have been raising, but then again it has to go up to the shareholders to make that decision."

It hasn't helped that the airport company has had a turbulent history, full of job losses and contract terminations over claims of mismanagement. Added to that, Vanuatu doesn't yet have a functioning government.

"Decisions get made and the government changes and new decisions get made, and personnel get put in to start work on a project, and until we get some sort of stable situation [it's] difficult to resolve," says Tony Deamer of Unity Airlines.

Mr Deamer runs three planes shuttling tourists around the country, but he says Air New Zealand closing its doors and Qantas suspending its codeshare arrangement will impact his business.

"A lot of people who use us to go and see the volcano or charter aircraft to go around the islands come in from New Zealand and Australia, so with the Qantas codeshare that would be quite a worry."

While there will be no quick solution to the runway problem, the CAA is satisfied the airfield is safe for the meantime.

As well as daily sweeping, all planes are now being asked to limit engine power when turning and to not brake suddenly, so to prevent more asphalt from coming loose.

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