People from the remote North West of Santo, Vanuatu’s largest island, have called on the Government to resume air services to and from their local Lajmoli Airport.
The Area Administrator for North West Santo, Vula Charlie, says since the airport ceased operation twelve years ago, in 2008 following a plane crash, people have been forced to spend more money on land transport and boats to travel and carry freight to and from the area.
He says local people are having to spend around VT40,000 for a one-way trip to Luganville, Vanuatu’s second largest town, using boat or land transport.
Mr Charlie says people in North West Santo believe if Air Vanuatu and other airlines resume services from the Lajmoli Airport, the competition will force boats and land transport services to reduce their costs.
He says although Vanuatu is now 40 years old, the people in his area still face difficulties.
He says the Sanma Provincial Government has contributed a small amount of money for the youth in that area to clean up the airport.
“We have employed local youths to cut the grass and clear up the airport,” Mr Charlie said.
Mr Charlie says there are some positive signs that the airport will re-open.
“We got a request from the Civil Aviation Authority to survey the area which is a first step in resuming flights at the airport,” he said.
The Civil Aviation Authority’s Assistant Director, Naiany Karu, says the authority has no problem with the facilities at the airport and a decision to resume flights rests largely on-Air Vanuatu.
“We have made sure the airport meet civil aviation standards,” Mr Karu said.
He says the authority has asked Air Vanuatu why flights were suspended at Lajmoli Airport and the Government-owned company gave two reasons: one, that Air Vanuatu had found demand for the flights from Lajmoli Airport was quite low, and secondly flight routes from the airport were not making a profit.
The Acting Chief Executive Officer for Air Vanuatu, Josepth Laloyer, admits it was an Air Vanuatu management decision to suspend flights to and from Lajmoli.
Mr Laloyer says it will need a rethink of that commercial decision for the airline to resume either one or two flights a week to the airport.
However, the Civil Aviation Authority says the Government has allocated money only for the operation of only four airports this year.
Mr Karu says those airports are Lonorore and Sara airports in Pentecost, Longana Airport on Ambae and Norsup Airport in Malekula, meaning the Government would need to look for money elsewhere if Lajmoli Airport was to re-opened.
In 2017, sixty chiefs from the North West and West Coast of Santo joined forces to petition the Government to re-open Lajmoli Airfield on West Coast Santo to help the people of the area.
However, the airport has not been re-oped.
Air Vanuatu has suspended flights from Lajmoli Airport in 2008 following a plane crash that claimed the life of the pilot.