Qantas, Virgin pitch for Vanuatu flights

Australian airlines look to fill the gap left by the collapse of Air Vanuatu.

By David Flynn, May 23 2024
Qantas, Virgin pitch for Vanuatu flights

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all hope to fill the gap left by the collapse of Air Vanuatu with a wave of direct flights between Australia and Port Villa.

Qantas, which previously maintained a codeshare partnership with Air Vanuatu, is planning a mix of flights on its Boeing 737 and Embraer E190 jets from August 2024, according to an application lodged today with Australia’s International Air Services Commission.

“During periods of peak demand, Qantas plans to operate up to five weekly services using the Boeing 737,” the airline says, while “from October 2024, Jetstar plans to operate up to four weekly services using Airbus A321neo aircraft.”

Virgin Australia also intends to build on its current schedule of two direct flights per week between Brisbane and Port Villa.

The airline is increasing this to five per week – on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – “for the remainder of May and June,” and plans to “quickly commence a further seven weekly services from east coast gateways into Vanuatu” pending government approval.”

State-owned Air Vanuatu entered voluntary administration earlier this month, with flights cancelled and passengers scrambling to find their own way between Australia, New Zealand and Port Villa.

The government of the Pacific nation has previously raised the prospect of privatising the carrier, whose sole 737 jet has now been repossessed by a leasing company.

Appointed liquidators Ernst & Young Australia have revealed Air Vanuatu owes creditors at least US$73.5 million, and has only two of its six aircraft in a flight-ready state.

However, E&Y says it hopes to secure sufficient funding and stakeholder support to allow a right-sized  Air Vanuatu to continue flying.

“The outlook for the airline is positive, despite pressures on the broader industry, and we will be focused on securing the future of this strategically vital national carrier,” said EY’s Morgan Kelly, who leads the liquidation team. 

“Air Vanuatu is critical to the people of the Republic of Vanuatu and a strategically important business to the nation. Our team is working closely with management to ensure continuity of service to customers and to ensure services continue as seamlessly as possible.” 

Air Vanuatu’s network saw flights to to Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Noumea and Fiji from its hub at Port Villa.

The airline says it will continually update its Vanuatu Travel Advisory page with information for passengers.

“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,” noted the Vanuatu Tourism Office in a statement.

“This is an evolving situation and we will continue to post updates to www.vanuatu.travel.”

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 380

This explains why they have had a 737 sitting in Melbourne with a failed engine since early this year. I thought it odd they would leave a plane out of service for so long.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 717

Hmm, I wonder how well the partnership with QF really worked for them?  I'd have thought Virgin was a better fit, with all flights to AUS connecting at BNE via the Virgin network.  Oh well.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2017

Total posts 33

The schedules were all wrong for anyone outside of Brisbane trying to use Virgin Australia to Port Vila.     I am in Canberra, and I would have had to overnight Brisbane at both ends of my trip.   Going with Virgin would cost me $300 to $350 more as well, plus the 2 nights accomodation in BNE.    Air Vanuatu's schedule was much more practical, and a lot cheaper, not having to do any nights in BNE. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 717

Agreed.  Given the frequency of VA flights into BNE from CBR, SYD, MEL, etc., there should absolutely be no delay beyond 4 hours (and certainly not overnight) for the connecting flight BNE-VLI.  As to whether current airfare prices charged between AUS and VLI are sustainable, seems they are not.  Even adding $300 to MEL-VLI, that's still $300 less than the comparable VA airfare.  Only NF can determine how many pax have QF code share to justify that particular partnership.  But this is a golden opportunity for VA.  It's been 18 years since I last holidayed in Vanuatu, but I'd not hesitate to return if I had the time.

01 Jul 2021

Total posts 40

First Bonza now them also what happens to there A220s orders?

07 May 2019

Total posts 14

I feel so sorry for their excellent pilots and cabin crew. The ground staff and management were infected with inappropriate leadership and woeful inexperience with airline operations, which we witnessed on all four occasions we flew with them. Their reaction to non-standard operations, sadly common, was laughable at best. While the airline's demise is no surprise, the beautiful people of Vanuatu will miss out badly. I hope Virgin and Qantas pick up the slack here, and do so quickly. A great holiday destination awaits them.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2017

Total posts 33

    It is a sad reality, but I am not surprised.   They've been struggling for a few years.   Now with Air Vanuatu no longer operating in the foreseeable future, Fiji Airways or Air Calin will be the next best options for many people, both in terms of convenience and price.    Both these airlines will also get a lot of demand from both New Zealanders and Australians  wanting to travel to Vanuatu.    Virgin Australia out of Brisbane is OK if you live in Brisbane, but their schedules are terrible if you are wanting to connect from anywhere else in Australia.   You are forced to overnight in Brisbane the night before, and often on your return as well.     I am not sure if Air Vanuatu's domestic services will be operating.   They serve an essential service between islands in the Vanuatu archipelago... especially to Santo and Tanna.   There are some smaller operators, but they only have a few small planes and no where near the capacity needed to make up for any loss from Air Vanuatu not operating.    Air Vanuatu not operating is going to create a huge problem for Vanuatu's tourism industry.

01 Jul 2021

Total posts 40

I heard AirCalin is struggling a bit, Fiji Airways are on fire thought they are killing it I love the airline is finally getting the love.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 717

But Felipe, if NF consolidates its Pacific sectors to BNE-VLI only, they'd hopefully be able to run at least 2 flights (higher occupancy) daily, perhaps 3 flights, for the <3 hour flight.  Whether they stay with QF, jump to VA, or go with both (if that's possible), it might save the day.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2017

Total posts 33

What will be happening to Air Vanuatu's domestic services, as they serve a crucial service in the archipelago?

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1204

I assume going forward Air Vanuatu will be largely a domestic airline servicing the outer islands of Vanuatu and maybe connecting to New Caledonia, though it has its own issues at the moment too.  International travel is probably too much for the country to afford and will probably become reliant on other Pacific carriers specifically QF, VA and NZ.

I would assume IASC will fast-track the applications for capacity with the Federal Government keen to support our Pacific neighbour.  Realistically, capacity will probably be fairly evenly split between QF/JQ and VA with both groups servicing Vila from both SYD and BNE.


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