RNZ: Solomon Airlines runs flights between New Zealand and Vanuatu

(Originally published by RNZ on May 22, 2024.)

Solomon Airlines has stepped up to bridge the gap between New Zealand and Vanuatu.

The Vanuatu tourism industry has been fearing the worst since Air Vanuatu abruptly shut down and suspended its flights earlier this month.

But this week Solomon Airlines started running weekly direct flights between Auckland Airport and Port Vila.

Erakor Island Resort director Cristine Hardman says the last two weeks have been a nightmare after the sudden liquidation of Air Vanuatu.

“[It was] not so much a surprise, but certainly devastating for the whole tourism industry in Vanuatu,” she said.

“It’s just emptied the country out.”

Hardman had been scrambling to get her guests back to New Zealand, but this week she stumbled on new flights via Solomon Airlines.

“We think it’s wonderful [but] it could probably do with a bit of promotion because we just stumbled on it,” she said.

“Just about everybody has managed to get flights home [now], we had a little group who could fly with Solomon Airlines.”

The new flights have taken off with little fanfare. Solomon Airlines had not advertised the flights publicly but confirmed it was accepting bookings.

A spokesperson told RNZ the airline was still working with local authorities to iron out the details, but it had already taken a number of passengers including RSE workers to and from New Zealand.

Aviation Industry Association chief executive Simon Wallace said the airline was seizing its opportunity after the demise of Air Vanuatu.

“The Solomon Islands has previously flown into New Zealand but it hasn’t been able to make that work,” he said.

“It probably now sees post-Covid that there’s an opportunity to grow tourism from New Zealand through Vanuatu.”

He expected the route to also boost tourism on the Solomon Islands themselves.

“This is not only good for Vanuatu… it’s also good for the Solomon Islands, and [it] will be looking at the connectivity that it can get from passengers travelling from Vanuatu up to Honiara.”

Hardman said her resort was a popular destination for weddings.

She said it was a relief that Solomon Airlines had picked up the slack, but a lot of hearts have already been broken.

“We’ve had some of our May brides postpone for a year, literally ‘Same time next year, we’ll give it another try’,” she said.

“[One] lovely little New Zealand couple who were to have about 40 guests… half of them were Air Vanuatu tickets so they weren’t able to come.”

Hardman said communication with Air Vanuatu had been turbulent.

“Unfortunately, Vanuatu has never been good at providing information,” she said.

“They have a tourism office there that you don’t hear from, the government, and now receivers leaving 4000 tickets… I was going to say ‘up in the air’ but that’s a poor choice of words because those passengers can’t go up in the air!”

She hoped a shareholder meeting planned for Wednesday night would provide some answers.

Reproduced with permission from Felix Walton. Photo: lasafotografix

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