Virgin Australia boosts Brisbane-Vanuatu flights

The airline is eager to plug the gap left after the collapse of Air Vanuatu.

By David Flynn, June 5 2024
Virgin Australia boosts Brisbane-Vanuatu flights

Pack your bags, bring the sunscreen but leave your cares behind: Qantas and Virgin Australia are ramping up flights to Vanuatu in the wake of Air Vanuatu’s collapse.

Virgin Australia is first off the mark with an increase from five to seven flights a week between Brisbane and Port Vila from July 7 and the option to add more during peak periods such as school holidays. 

Those flights will take wing every day except Thursday, with two services on Saturdays.

However, Virgin says it is holding off on Sydney-Port Vila flights “in the near term” – despite  approval from Australia’s International Air Services Commission (IASC) – partly so that it can focus its available 737 fleet on Brisbane for those peak travel periods.

Qantas, which previously maintained a codeshare partnership with Air Vanuatu, is also planning to launch Australia-Vanuatu flights on its Boeing 737 and Embraer E190 jets from August 2024, according to an IASC application lodged on May 21.

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

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

The government of the Pacific nation 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 confirmed Air Vanuatu owed creditors at least US$73.5 million, though expressed its 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 Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Noumea and Fiji from its hub at Port Vila.

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

Additional reporting by Chris Ashton.

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