Air Vanuatu resumes New Zealand and Australia flights as 737 returns to service

Air Vanuatu says its sole jet has now returned to service, after its grounding saw a week’s worth of flights to New Zealand and Australia cancelled over the school holiday period.

The airline said in a statement it has been operating all regular international schedules since Saturday, after a replacement mechanical part for the Boeing 737 was sourced.

Final mechanical work would take place later this month to replace the loan auxiliary power unit that was currently fitted. This work would be conducted overnight, so it was not expected to affect any flights.

The airline said the backlog of stranded customers had been resolved through recovery flights and assistance from other airlines, including Solomon Airlines, Nauru Airlines and Fiji Airways.

Customers affected by cancellations had been offered refunds.

This isn't the first issue Air Vanuatu has faced this year. In April, the airline was forced to halt international operations due to mechanical issues with the same Boeing 737 – the airline’s only aircraft capable of flying to New Zealand and Australia.

The jet was grounded for two weeks, causing disruption to hundreds of customers. It was reported the incident cost the airline at least VT168 million (NZ$2.3 million) from lost ticket sales alone, as well as additional costs of putting up stranded passengers in hotels and wet leasing a replacement plane.

The aircraft was also grounded for three days due to a mechanical fault in December, upending customers’ plans just days out from Christmas.

In its latest statement, Air Vanuatu said airline staff and the acting CEO were working with the government on investment and infrastructure plans to “improve services and expand the international fleet in due course”.

Air Vanuatu also has one ATR-72 aircraft, that is used on some Pacific services in addition to domestic flying. This aircraft has also been out of action due to scheduled maintenance work. However, the airline said this has been completed ahead of schedule and the aircraft would return to service on October 5.

The airline currently offers international services to Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as other Pacific Island destinations.